Can my eyes get sunburned?

  • Oct 24, 2017
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As many of you know, invisible UV-A and UV-B rays that come from the sun can cause sunburns and skin cancer.

But did you know that these same rays can cause painful sunburns on your eyes? An eye-sunburn is also known asphotokeratitis. Much like our skin, corneas are built to withstand some exposure to UV light, but overexposure is cumulative and can cause serious and painful injury (just like a bad sunburn!). Unlike a sunburn, however, it is rarely noticeable when a burn is happening inside the eyes. You may develop symptoms of keratitis later such as pain, the feeling of sand in your eyes, extreme dryness, itchiness, burning, tearing, and sensitivity to light.

Other sources of light, like tanning bed lamps, welders’ torches, eclipses, and electric sparks or lightning are also culprits of photokeratitis! Risk for keratitis is highest in the summer and winter months when clear days make UV radiation is especially intense.

Long-term overexposure to UV radiation and burning of the eyes has been associated with serious conditions such as carcinoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration. Despite its small surface area, skin cancer around the eye and eyelid area makes up of almost 5-10% of all skin cancers, and many of these cancers have the ability to spread from your eye to other parts of the body. Skin cancer of the eye can indeed be deadly so prevention and early detection is crucial in sun safety!

Permanent vision impairment is very serious, and it is important to know when and how to protect yourself from these dangerous rays. Look for large, full coverage sunglasses that provide 100% UV-A and UV-B protection. Hats, parasols, or umbrellas can provide additional protection.

As always, early detection is crucially important! A visit with Dr. Mila and her optical associates can help assist you with preventative techniques and routine eye exams can help detect problems before they become more serious.

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