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Can Your Eyeballs Get Sunburned?

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a woman is shading her eyes with her hands since the sun is so bright that it could cause and eyeball sunburn.

When we think about sunburn, we often visualize red, peeling skin after a day at the beach. But did you know that your eyeballs can get sunburned too? Yes, it’s true! Just like your skin, your eyes are vulnerable to the harmful effects of UV radiation. 

This condition, known as photokeratitis, can cause pain, redness, tearing, and even temporary vision loss. It’s a reminder of the importance of wearing sunglasses with UV protection, especially when spending extended time outdoors. 

So next time you grab your sunscreen, don’t forget your shades to keep your eyes safe and healthy! This blog post will explore the phenomenon of eyeball sunburn, its causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment.

What is Eyeball Sunburn?

Eyeball sunburn, medically known as photokeratitis, occurs when the cornea, the eye’s clear front surface, is damaged by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds and welding torches. 

This condition is essentially a “sunburn” of the eye and can be as painful and damaging as a regular skin sunburn. Symptoms may include redness, tearing, a gritty sensation, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light. While photokeratitis is often temporary, repeated exposure to UV radiation can lead to more serious eye conditions, making proper eye protection crucial.

How Does UV Radiation Affect the Eyes?

UV radiation from the sun can penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere and reach our eyes, potentially causing harm. There are two types of UV rays that affect us: UVA Rays: These long-wave rays can penetrate deep into the eye and potentially damage the retina.

  • UVA rays: These rays have a longer wavelength and can penetrate deeper into the skin, leading to aging and long-term damage.
  • UVB rays: These have a shorter wavelength and are primarily responsible for sunburn and more immediate damage to the skin and eyes.

Both types of rays can contribute to eye conditions such as cataracts and macular degeneration, emphasizing the importance of protecting our eyes with sunglasses that offer UV protection.

Symptoms of Eyeball Sunburn

The symptoms of photokeratitis can range from mild to severe and usually appear a few hours after exposure. Common symptoms include:

  • Red, bloodshot eyes
  • A gritty feeling, like sand in the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Excessive tearing
  • Blurred vision
  • Pain or discomfort
a pair of glasses are left in the sand at the beach, making the owner more at risk of an eyeball sunburn.

Who is at Risk?

Outdoor enthusiasts, health-conscious individuals, and anyone who spends extended periods outside are at higher risk of developing eyelid sunburn. This condition can be particularly troublesome as the skin on the eyelids is thin and sensitive. 

Specific activities and locations that increase this risk include spending time at the beach, hiking in the mountains, participating in outdoor sports, or simply enjoying a sunny day in the park. It’s important to take precautions, such as wearing sunglasses and applying sunscreen, to protect this delicate area from harmful UV rays.

  • Skiing or snowboarding in high altitudes where UV levels are higher
  • Spending time on the water, where UV rays reflect off the surface
  • Hiking or climbing in open, sunny areas

Prevention Tips

Protecting your eyes from UV radiation is crucial. Here are some tips to help you prevent eyeball sunburn:

  1. Wear Sunglasses: Opt for sunglasses that block 100% UVA and UVB rays. Wrap-around styles offer additional protection by blocking rays from the side.
  2. Use a Hat: Combine sunglasses with a wide-brimmed hat to reduce the amount of UV radiation reaching your eyes.
  3. Avoid Peak Sun Hours: Try to stay indoors or seek shade during peak UV radiation hours, typically between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  4. Use UV-Blocking Contact Lenses: If you wear contact lenses, consider those that offer UV protection. However, they shouldn’t replace sunglasses.
  5. Apply Sunscreen: While it won’t protect your eyes directly, applying sunscreen around your eyes will help prevent UV damage to the surrounding skin.

Treatment Options

If you suspect you’ve suffered an eyelid sunburn, it’s essential to seek medical attention to prevent further damage. However, some immediate steps you can take include:

  • Rest Your Eyes: Avoid exposure to bright lights and screens.
  • Use Cold Compresses: Apply a cold compress to your closed eyes to alleviate discomfort.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water to help your body heal.
  • Use Lubricating Eye Drops: These can help soothe the eyes, but avoid “redness-reducing” drops as they can cause further irritation.

In severe cases, a healthcare professional may prescribe pain relievers or antibiotic eye drops to prevent infection and aid in healing.

So,  Can Your Eyeballs Really Get Sunburned?

Yes, your eyeballs can get sunburned, and the effects can be both painful and damaging. Take a step towards UV protection for your eyes and explore our wide collection of quality sunglasses.

Contact us or visit us in Blackfoot, Idaho for the best guidance on protecting your eyes from the sun. Bluebird Vision + Wellness is here to meet all your eye care needs. Stay safe and keep your eyes healthy!

Dr. Cody Jones, O.D. at Bluebird Eye Care in Blackfoot, Idaho.

Written by Dr. Cody Jones

Dr. Jones is a fully licensed Doctor of Optometry (O.D.). He graduated from Pennsylvania College of Optometry in Philadelphia with academic and clinical honors—receiving both Doctor of Optometry and Bachelor of Science degrees. Upon his graduation, Dr. Jones served as an officer and doctor at the Naval Medical Center of San Diego, where he gained valuable experience. He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal during this service.

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