Sunburned eyes

With review and feedback from CEENTA Ophthalmologist Casey Mathys, MD (SouthPark, Belmont)

Sunburn is unpleasant and painful, but you know to wear sunblock and avoid the sun when it’s at its highest. But what are you doing to protect your eyes?

Did my eyes sunburn?

Sunburned eyes, also known as photokeratitis, is when your eyes are exposed to an excessive level of ultraviolet rays, damaging your cornea and conjunctiva. Symptoms of photokeratitis include pain, redness, blurriness, sensitivity to light, tearing, a feeling of something in the eye, halos, headaches, and even vision loss. The more exposure to ultraviolet light you experience, the more intense your symptoms will be. Photokeratitis occurs most often in environments with very bright sunlight reflected onto the eyes such as on the water when boating or reflection from snow during skiing or mountain climbing.

What are some sources of UV rays?

The most common source of UV rays is the sun. Not only can direct sunlight be an issue, but sun reflecting off sand, water, ice, and snow can be a problem, too. People who look directly at the sun during solar eclipses often get photokeratitis.

UV rays can also come from artificial sources, including tanning beds and arc welders.

How do I protect my eyes from sunburn?

Try to avoid going outside when the sun is at its peak, especially if you could be exposed to reflected sunlight. If you must go outside, or you are using a tanning bed, wear sunglasses or snow goggles that are designed to block or absorb UV rays. If you are working with an arc welder, be sure to wear a protective welding helmet.

How are sunburned eyes treated?

Photokeratitis usually goes away on its own. Until it does, you can do a few things to ease any discomfort. First, move to a dark room. If you wear contact lenses, take them out right away and don’t wear them again until your eyes have healed. A cold washcloth over your closed eyes and applying artificial tears may help, too.

If you are experiencing more severe pain, or your eyes aren’t healing, make an appointment with your eye doctor. If necessary, they can prescribe you painkillers or even antibiotic eyedrops.

Can UV rays affect other parts of the eye?

Casey Mathys, MDUV rays can cause damage to the retina, which can contribute to risk of macular degeneration, CEENTA Ophthalmologist Casey Mathys, MD, said. Wearing sunglasses when outdoors is important to help protect the eyes from developing macular degeneration as we age.

Getting eye care at CEENTA

If you have photokeratitis that’s not going away, or you have any other concerns about your eyes, come to CEENTA. Our eye doctors are here for you, no matter how sunny it is.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. New patients can make appointments online with our eye doctors in North and South Carolina. Current patients can also make appointments through myCEENTAchart with physicians they have already seen.


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