Can My Eyes Get Sunburn?

The eyes are different from the skin, right? Can they get a sunburn? The eyes are actually just as susceptible to the sun as our skin. Even on a cloudy day, the UV rays can bounce off the water of the lake or ocean, off the sand of the beach, off concrete as you take a walk, and can even bounce off the snow. Eyes can be damaged in a couple different ways as a result.

In the short term, if overexposed to the sun, the eyes might start feeling gritty and irritated, develop a burning sensation, become light sensitive, begin tearing and have a red appearance on the conjuncitva (white of the eye). We call this “photokeratitis” and it typically goes away after a few hours in most cases. In more severe cases, the symptoms may last long enough to prompt a visit to an eye care professional.

Long term exposure to UV rays is believed to be one of the causes of cataracts, which is a clouding of the lens inside the eye. UV exposure has also been shown to be a risk factor for macular degeneration, which can result in loss of central vision. Long term exposure can also result in skin cancer on the eyelid.

It is NEVER a good idea to put sunscreen in the eyes as this won’t accomplish anything and would certainly irritate the eyes! The best protection against the UV Rays of the sun is a nice pair of 100% UV protection sunglasses. If you are unsure about whether your sunglasses offer UV protection, feel free to ask your local optician. When buying a new pair, look for the sticker or seal designating them as having UV protection. If shaded glasses do not give UV protection, they will be missing the UV label.

Stay fashionable my friends while protecting your eyes!

Bart W., Ophthalmic Technician with Milwaukee Eye Care