Vivid Eye Care | Cranston Market and Meadows Mile | Calgary
356 Cranston Rd SE #1020 Calgary AB T3M 0S9 (403) 724-0101
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(587) 323-4302

Calgary, AB |403.724.0101

Can You Sunburn Your Eyes?

When we think of sunburn, our minds often jump to red, peeling skin, but your eyes can get sunburned too. Eye sunburn can cause significant discomfort after short periods of direct sunlight. What’s more, cumulative exposure to ultraviolet rays over time can cause eye problems. 

Eye protection with sunglasses can help prevent sunburn and protect your vision. Regular eye exams are also crucial for adults and children to monitor their eye health, screen for eye problems, and determine the appropriate treatment.  

What Is Eye Sunburn?

Eye sunburn, scientifically referred to as photokeratitis, is damage to the cornea (the clear front surface of the eye) caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Much like a skin sunburn, this condition involves damage to the surface cells, leading to pain and discomfort.

How Does Eye Sunburn Occur?

Photokeratitis occurs with exposure to intense UV radiation, either from the sun or artificial sources like welding torches, sun lamps, and tanning beds. Overexposure to UV rays can damage the cells in your eyes. 

Summer can pose a risk for eye sunburn as UV rays reflect off surfaces such as sand, cement, city streets, and water. However, you may also be at risk during overcast days and winter. In winter, UV rays reflect off surfaces such as snow and ice, leading to eye sunburn or snow blindness. 

Symptoms of Eye Sunburn

Recognizing the symptoms of eye sunburn is crucial for timely intervention. Symptoms typically appear 30 minutes to 12 hours after UV exposure. If you experience symptoms after spending time outdoors, especially in sunny or reflective environments, you can get sunburned eyes.

While pain is a common symptom of eye sunburn, eye discomfort from sunburned eyes can include the following:

  • Red eyes or eyelids
  • Decreased or blurry vision
  • Excessive tearing or watery eyes
  • Grainy sensation
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Light sensitivity
  • Headache

The Short & Long-Term Effects of Eye Sunburn

Short-term effects of photokeratitis include temporary vision impairment and discomfort. However, repeated exposure can lead to long-term eye health problems such as:

  • Pterygium: Growth on the surface of the eyes.
  • Cataracts: Clouding of the eye’s lens.
  • Macular degeneration: Degeneration of the macular, the part of the eye responsible for central vision. 
  • Ocular melanoma: Cancerous growth in the eye or eyelid. 

Factors that Increase the Risk of Eye Sunburn

Several factors can increase your risk of photokeratitis:

  • Prolonged exposure to sunlight without adequate eye protection
  • Reflective environments
  • High altitudes where UV radiation is more intense
  • Use of tanning beds or exposure to UV-emitting devices

People More Prone to Eye Sunburn

Common scenarios and certain groups of people more prone to eye sunburn include:

  • Beachgoers: Reflective sand and water increase UV exposure.
  • Skiers and snowboarders: Snow reflects UV rays, intensifying exposure.
  • Outdoor workers: Prolonged exposure during peak UV times.
  • Tanners: Use of tanning beds without proper eye protection.
  • Children: Babies and children’s eyes are more sensitive to the sun
  • Older adults: Age-related changes make older adult’s eyes more vulnerable to the sun.
  • Individuals with eye conditions: Pre-existing conditions can increase sensitivity to UV light.

A woman wearing sunglasses and a wide-rimmed hat while outdoors.

The Importance of Eye Protection

Just as you would put sunscreen on your skin, you should protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. Neglecting eye protection can lead to both immediate discomfort and long-term damage.

Practical tips for protecting your eyes from sunburn can include the following:

  • Sunglasses: Invest in high-quality sunglasses that offer 100% UV protection.
  • Hats and visors: These can provide additional shade and reduce UV exposure.
  • Avoid peak sun hours: Stay indoors or seek shade during peak UV times, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest, and don’t stare directly at the sun. 

How to Choose the Right Sunglasses

Consider the following factors when selecting sunglasses:

  • Labels that confirm 100% UV-A and UV-B protection.
  • Wraparound styles to prevent UV rays from entering the sides.
  • Polarized lenses, which reduce glare and improve visual comfort.

What to Do If You Suspect You Have Sunburned Eyes

If you suspect eye sunburn, take the following measures:

  • Rest your eyes: Avoid further sun exposure, remove contact lenses, and rest your eyes. 
  • Use artificial tears: Lubricating eye drops can help alleviate discomfort.
  • Apply a cold compress: This can reduce discomfort and soothe your eyes.
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes: Rubbing can exacerbate the damage.

When to Seek Professional Help

While you can treat mild cases at home, seek professional medical help from your eye doctor in the following instances:

  • Worsening pain
  • New symptoms
  • Significant vision changes
  • You have excessive tearing or discharge

Vision Protection with Sunglasses

Eye health is integral to overall well-being, and protecting your eyes from UV damage is vital to prevent problems later in life. By understanding the risks of UV exposure, recognizing the symptoms of eye sunburn, and taking preventive measures, you can enjoy the sun safely. 

Book an appointment with Vivid Eye Care for a personalized approach to eye health, recommendations for vision concerns, and your one-stop destination for quality adult and children’s sunglasses.