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Eyes Sunburned Snow Blindness Preventive Advice Photokeratitis

adam-smith-ebGd-nqQCH8-unsplash eyes sunburned

Last updated 09/28/2022

If you have ever watched a solar eclipse without protective eyewear, you may have felt it. You probably didn’t think about it much. Eyes Sunburned snow blindness, yes.

This is what happens when you go out in the sun without sunglasses for a long time. The very delicate tissues of your eyes can also get sunburned. And you can’t put sunscreen here that I know off.

So, you gotta put on those sunglasses when outdoors during the day. Like your skin this doesn’t matter what the weather is. Further, the sun rays reflect off of surfaces back in your face.

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What is Photokeratitis?

In medical terms; “photo” means light adding keratitis; inflammation of your cornea. Photokeratitis (aka radiation keratitis, snow blindness) is a painful uncomfortable condition having to do with overexposure to ultraviolet light. This occurs when UV rays hit your cornea, the transparent outer layer of the eyes as well as your conjunctivia.

In short the result is your cornea gets sunburned. This could be by either the sun or some man made source. You actually have a sunburned eye.

Symptoms of Sunburned Eyes

Just like when you stay out in the sun too long and get sunburned, photokeratitis is not noticed right away. Instead you become aware after the damage has happened. To sum up this is an injury.

If you are exposed to UV rays for a long period of time your symptoms will be worse. It is possible not to have these symptoms until 6-12 hours after being exposed to the UV rays.

Symptoms of Photokeratitis:

  • Tearing
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Eyelids are swollen
  • Headache
  • Gritty feeling
  • Eyelid twitching
  • Halos around lights
  • Hazy vision
  • Temporary loss of vision

What Causes Photokeratitis?

Sun

Photokeratitis is the result of damage to your eye due to ultraviolet rays (UV). The sun is the main source of natural UV rays.

If you’re fixed on looking at the sun like a solar eclipse photokeratitis can happen. A special device should be used to observe the solar eclipse. Not using a device can also cause a burn to your retina.

And this will last a long time as well as being more serious versus temporary corneal damage. The condition is not seen often due to a solar eclipse. Hopefully this means people are protecting their eyes.

Reflections

Some surfaces have reflective qualities sending more UV rays into your eyes. Rays from the sun can bounce off water, white sand, ice   and of course snow.

So being near any body of water you also need to protect your eyes. The sun reflects off of the water like a mirror. This is while you are fishing, boating or active in any water sport.

Locations would be:

  • Beach
  • Lake
  • Dock/pier
  • Boat
  • Pool
  • Anywhere the sun connects with water

Cold Temps

Extreme cold temperatures along with dryness can contribute to a sunburned eye. This is why the condition is so common among higher altitudes on highly reflective snow areas.

City Surfaces

Being in the city don’t make the mistake of thinking you are safe from the sun’s reflections. Sunlight can also reflect off of buildings, cars, as well as concrete streets. In short, think of all those glass windows and metallic surfaces.

And it doesn’t matter if it’s a bright sunny day or overcast. Thus, UV rays can damage your eyes and skin through clouds.

Man Made Surfaces

In addition many man-made sources can cause sunburn to your eyes. Artificial means of UV can lead to snow blindness as well.

This would include:

  • Sun tanning beds
  • Welder’s flash
  • Carbon arcs
  • Photographic flood lamps
  • Electric sparks
  • Halogen desk lamps
sm blue graphics

Snow Blindness

A common type of photokeratitis is called snow blindness. This is caused when UV rays bounce off of ice or that snowfield out there. Which makes the surfaces in the North and South Pole perfect for developing the condition  since this is so often seen in the climate.

In addition, mountains are usually located at higher altitudes providing little protection from dangerous UV rays. Snow blindness can also mean freezing to your cornea’s surface. This can cause severe drying to the corneal surface because of the extreme dry air.

The condition is commonly seen with activities like skiing, snowmobiling and mountain climbing.

Affected Areas of Your Eyes

When your eyes get too much exposure to UV light, temporary sunburn or permanent damage can happen.

Affected eye areas:

  • Cornea, the thin surface layer
  • Retina
  • Lens
  • Conjunctiva

Retina

The retina lines the back of your eyes as a thin layer of tissue. It is located on the inside near your optic nerve. Mainly its responsibility is to process light from its layer of photoreceptor cells.

Conjunctiva

There are two sections of the thin conjunctiva, mucus membrane. The first section covers and protects the white areas of your eye (bulbar conjunctiva). Secondly a section covers the inner surface of the upper and lower eyelids (palpebral conjunctiva). One or both of these can become sunburned.

Lens

The lens is a transparent curved structure in the eye. It sits behind your iris along with the cornea. Therefore, mainly the lens is responsible to focus light rays onto the retina.

As with skin, eye sunburn can vary in intensity. The longer your exposure to UV rays, the more intense your symptoms are going to be. To sum up symptoms of photokeratitis can be quite uncomfortable.

Diagnosing Your Sunburned Eyes

To diagnose your sunburned eyes your physician will inquire about your recent activities. An exam will be done on your eyes. This includes the use of an eye drop containing a fluorescein dye to help find UV damage.

Treatment for Photokeratitis

Photokeratitis often disappears on its own. To treat the eye and encourage healing the focus is on helping you feel better during this process. Treatment mainly involves keeping your eyes closed while wearing a patch.

Also a few drops of ophthalmic antibiotic solution can be placed in the eyes. This consists of sulfacetamide sodium 10% with methylcellulose or gentamicin. About 18 hours later vision often returns. Your cornea’s surface usually regenerates in 24 to 48 hours.

You don’t want to rub your eyes while they heal. Contact lenses should not be worn. Avoid the sun. Give your eyes plenty of rest.

To relieve symptoms:

  • Lay cold compresses with washcloth over your closed eyes
  • Apply artificial tears/lubricating eye drops
  • Your ophthalmologist can recommend pain relievers
  • Ophthalmologist can also prescribe eye drop antibiotics
adam-smith-1fquAltOL6E-unsplash eyes sunburned

Home Remedies for Sunburned Eyes

If you suspect your eyes are sunburned you might try these. However, it is always best to check with your medical provider and be diagnosed. This is extremely important if your symptoms should become worse after a couple days.

Ice Roller

Using an ice roller on your eye can relieve the swelling and discomfort. Apply for 10 minutes and repeat as needed.

Cucumbers

Get those cucumber slices out and place on your eyelids for 10 to 15 minutes. The cooling affect soothes the skin around your eyes in addition it’s hydrating. For instance, this can be done 2-3 times during your day.

Aloe Vera

If you have an aloe vera plant you can extract the gel. The gel can be put on a cotton ball and applied to eyelids for 5-10 minutes. To clarify, aloe vera gel is very cool so it is soothing it also helps with pain and redness.

Coriander Seeds

Coriander is also great for its cooling qualities. Place a teaspoon of coriander seeds in a glass of water to soak overnight. Drain the seeds out in the morning and drink the fluid.

Castor Oil

Castor oil encourages lipid production which helps sooth eye irritation. A drop can be placed on a cotton ball and applied to your eyelids 1-2 times daily.

Prevent Sunburned Eyes

You can prevent sunburned eyes by wearing the right eye protection to block damaging UV rays.

This would be:

  • Sunglasses that block or absorb at least 99% of UV rays
  • Snow goggles made to block UV rays
  • Wearing a welding helmet during this activity

If you take part in water sports or snow sports purchase quality sunglasses that wrap around with photochromic lenses.

Be mindful that sand, water and snow have a reflective glare that can damage your corneas. This is even during overcast weather.

Have a wide brimmed hat or visor to wear if you’re outdoors for long periods without sunglasses.

Future Eye Diseases

Protecting your eyes from UV rays is the only way to avoid getting them sunburned. Over time, without the proper protection you may be setting yourself up for certain types of eye diseases.

Eye diseases:

  • Cataracts
  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Eyelid cancer
Wrapping it up

There is a condition where your eyes can become sunburned. This could be from UV rays reflecting off of surfaces like water or through artificial means like a tanning bed. Careers affected could be welders or outdoor athletes.

Photokeratitis usually heals without medical treatment in a couple days. The best ways to encourage healing is to avoid the sun, stay inside and rest your eyes. If you still have symptoms visit your eye doctor to rule out a different eye condition.

Prolong sun exposure without protective eye wear could lead to certain eye diseases. Photokeratitis can also be called snow blindness but like your sunburn, it’s temporary. Bottom line, wear your sunglasses.

Mary

Mary is the founder of All About Our Skin. Former esthetician and CPC. Enjoys researching skincare and has been studying our skin for the past fifteen years.

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