How To Prevent Your Eyes From Getting Sunburned

A sunburn is an unpleasant experience, to say the least. It's no secret that protecting your skin when you go out in the sun is important and you've probably heard your share of pleas from dermatologists to wear sunscreen. But what you may not know is that sunburns can affect more than just your skin. In fact, your eyes can be susceptible to becoming sunburned if they aren't properly shielded from the sun's harmful rays, per Healthline. When it comes to your eyes being at risk of sun damage, it isn't just during warm summer months or days spent at the beach when protective eye gear is essential. During the winter months when you're out in the snow, enjoying cool weather at a park, or relaxing outside at the end of the day, it's important to be on the lookout for your eyes (no pun intended).

The medical terminology for a sunburn of the eyes is photokeratitis. Also called ultraviolet keratitis, photokeratitis occurs when the eyes are overexposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and the cornea becomes inflamed. Whenever the sun is intense, there is a risk of excessive exposure to the eyes. Additionally, there's a form of photokeratitis nicknamed "snow blindness" because it's instigated by strong UV rays bouncing off of snow or ice and inflaming the clear coating of the eyes. Sunburned eyes can be extremely painful and can damage eyesight. Here's how you can protect your eyes from sun damage.

What to know about eye sunburns

Unfortunately, sunburns on the eye's surface can be disruptive to your ability to conduct daily activities (per Sharp). Symptoms of photokeratitis include itchy, red, and watery eyes, blurred or distorted vision, headache, visual sensitivity to light, seeing spots or halos in your visual field, and the sensation of grit in your eye. Rubbing or trying to scratch your eyes can make symptoms worse and cause additional damage to the cornea. When you have sunburned eyes, be especially cautious when it comes to driving a vehicle or operating machinery since your eyesight may be hampered.

The times when you'll want to be extra aware of sun exposure on your eyes are when you're outside doing activities on or near water, when you're spending an extended amount of time outdoors in spaces that lack shade, and when you're exposed to artificial ultraviolet light (via Healthline). The sun's rays can reflect off of a variety of surfaces and be redirected to your eyes, so be mindful of situations in which UV rays might reflect off of surfaces such as sand, snow, ice, water, concrete, and glass. When it comes to sun exposure, walking down the sidewalk can be just as hazardous as spending the day boating on the water. Therefore, knowing how to properly protect your eyes is extremely important for the longevity of your eye health.

Protecting your eyes from sun damage

Luckily, there are many simple things you can do to protect your eyes from sun damage and to treat photokeratitis if it ever happens to you. According to Banner Health, using prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops can relieve irritation and pain if you experience sunburn in your eyes. Making an appointment at an urgent care facility, your primary care physician (PCP), or an eye specialist called an ophthalmologist is a good idea if the sunburn to your eyes is severe. Avoiding tanning beds with artificial UV light is a must while recovering from photokeratitis, and staying away from tanning beds, in general, can help prevent damage to your eyes even if you wear protective eyewear during tanning sessions.

Prioritizing eye health is an aspect of wellness that everyone should put at the top of their list. The experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine recommend protecting eyes from UV rays and sun damage by wearing sunglasses that are labeled as having UV protection, even on overcast days when the sun doesn't seem to be out. Wearing a hat that covers your face is also advised. Keep in mind, UV rays can affect your eyes regardless of the weather, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is at peak exposure. When in doubt, cover your eyes and remember to apply sunscreen to the skin around your eyes, including your eyelids.