Overexposure to Sun? Be Careful About Photokeratitis
Eye Health

Overexposure to Sun? Be Careful About Photokeratitis

Photokeratitis is a condition that occurs when your cornea becomes inflamed from over exposure to ultraviolet light. The cornea is the clear (transparent) dome-shaped “window” that covers the front of your eye. It is the outermost part of the eye. Photokeratitis can be painful. The damage to the cornea can be compared to the damage ultraviolet light can do to the skin, causing sunburn.

The most severe form of photokeratitis is called snow blindness, something that mountain climbers and winter outdoor enthusiasts may be at high risk for if they are not protected properly. The risk is caused by the sunlight reflecting off snow or water. Other causes of photokeratitis include high intensity UV lamps, such as those used for tanning or some medical treatments, welding arcs, and even lightning and electrical sparks.

What Are Symptoms of Photokeratitis?
The most common complaint is a feeling of grit or sand in the eye. There may also be:

  • Redness of the eye
  • Photophobia - you may be unable to tolerate light
  • Your eyelid may close involuntarily, in an effort to protect your eye
  • Excessive tearing
  • Blurry vision

What Treatment Is Needed for Photokeratitis?
Most often, the symptoms from photokeratitis go away on their own, if not right away usually within 24 to 48 hours. Mild photophobia can last for up to a week or so. However, if the pain or discomfort lasts or is severe, a visit to your eye doctor may help rule out anything more serious. Once your eye doctor has determined the problem is photokeratitis, you may be advised to:

  • Stay out of the sun
  • Wear sunglasses while outside (which you should do anyway!)
  • Apply cold compresses to your eyes
  • Rest with your eyes closed

Prevention of Photokearatitis
Eye protection at all times is important, especially during childhood. The sun can cause other types of eye damage, such as speeding up the formation of cataracts, in addition to photokearatitis. To reduce the risk of eye damage from the sun, always wear polarized sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays.  Other ways to protect your eyes over the long run include:

  • Avoid tanning lamps.
  • Wear eye protection when working in areas with ultraviolet lights or undergoing medical treatment that uses ultraviolet lights.
  • Wear a hat or sun visor while outside. Ultraviolet rays can sneak in along the sides of your sunglasses. A wide brimmed hat or sun visor will help block these rays.
  • If you feel your eyes starting to feel gritty or rough, get out of the sun to prevent further damage.