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Can You Sunburn Your Eyes?

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A young woman trying to block sunlight with both of her hands.

When we think about sunburn, our minds often jump to protecting our skin with sunscreen, staying in the shade, staying hydrated, and avoiding the sun on hot days. But your skin isn’t the only vulnerable part of your body. For example: can you sunburn your eyes?

The human eye is an extremely sensitive organ, and just like your skin, it can be affected by prolonged exposure to the sun. While it isn’t as common as sunburning your skin, it’s possible to sunburn your eyes.

This makes it essential to protect your eyes from too much sun exposure by using sunglasses with UV protection and seeking the advice of an experienced optometrist.

Is It Possible to Sunburn Your Eyes?

The human eye is a remarkably delicate organ, and too much exposure to UV radiation from the sun can absolutely cause a sunburn. When your eye becomes sunburned, the condition is known as photokeratitis

While this isn’t as common as other sun-related damages to the body, it’s still a real concern, especially for those who spend a lot of time outdoors without proper eye protection. It’s essential to be responsible and protect your eyes where possible—a good pair of UV sunglasses can offer you a lot of protection!

What Happens If Your Eyes Are Sunburned?

If you sunburn your eyes, it can feel extremely uncomfortable. But it isn’t just discomfort and irritation—sunburned eyes can cause a range of symptoms like:

  • Eye pain, causing your eyes to feel sore and painful
  • Redness, where the whites of your eyes may become red and bloodshot
  • Excessive tearing as your eyes try to protect themselves
  • Light sensitivity, or photophobia
  • Dry eye syndrome

In some cases, sunburned eyes can become swollen, adding to the discomfort. Sunburned eyes can even lead to more severe problems like blurry or hazy vision.

Typically, these symptoms appear a few hours after sun exposure and can last for a day or two. While this sunburn is usually temporary and doesn’t cause permanent damage, it’s still a painful experience you’d want to avoid.

How to Treat Sunburned Eyes

If you suspect you have sunburned eyes, there are several steps you can take to help alleviate discomfort:

  • Stay indoors. The first and most crucial step is to get out of the sun. Find a cool, dark place to rest your eyes, and avoid UV exposure where possible.
  • Use artificial tears or eye drops. These can help bring you some form of relief and can typically be acquired over the counter.
  • Use cold compresses. Gently apply a cold, damp washcloth to your closed eyelids, as this can help reduce swelling and soothe your eyes.
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes, as this can make inflammation and discomfort much worse.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, and give yourself some time to heal.

If your symptoms get worse over the course of a day or two, visit your optometrist to receive a professional evaluation.

The Importance of Protecting Your Eyes

When it comes to sunburns—whether your skin or your eyes—preventing a sunburn from happening in the first place is better than trying to cure it. To protect your eyes from sunburn and any unwanted side effects of UV exposure, try:

  • Wearing sunglasses that are labeled to block 100% of UV rays
  • Wearing a hat to prevent the sun from angling over the glasses
  • Limiting your exposure to the sun

If you prefer contact lenses, speak with your optometrist during your next eye exam. They may be able to recommend a set of UV-blocking contact lenses to give you an extra layer of protection. These contact lenses only provide protection for the part of the eye they’re covering though, so it’s still important to wear sunglasses and a hat for more complete protection.

It can be particularly beneficial to regularly visit your optometrist. They can provide you with up-to-date advice on how to avoid exposing your eyes to unnecessary harm, and if you do experience a sunburn, they can recommend an appropriate form of treatment!

A woman receiving an eye exam from her female optometrist.

Eye Care in Pasadena

At Charles Korth Optometry in Pasadena, we’re dedicated to the health and well-being of your eyes—and if they’re sunburned, we can help. If you have any concerns about sunburned eyes or want to ensure your eyes are properly protected, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Book an appointment with us today to get advice from an experienced optometrist about what to do if you sunburn your eyes!

Written by Total Vision

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