Short Answer: Yes
The next time you get ready to head to the beach or ski slopes without protective eye gear, take a moment to remember that eyes can get sunburned the same way skin can.
Severely sunburned eyes are caused by overexposure to UV (ultraviolet) rays, like those emitted by the sun. This condition is known as photokeratitis.
Photokeratitis, or ultraviolet keratitis, is an inflammation of the cornea, which is the clear covering of the front of the eye.
“Protecting your eyes from UV rays is the only way to avoid getting them sunburned”
Over time, too much sun exposure can cause specific types of eye diseases to occur.
When to be careful
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your eyes are protected by blinking, or from not staring directly into the sun. UV rays can be intense in several different environments.
Sun can reflect off of water and sand, causing UV exposure. This can occur in the following locations:
- anywhere the sun meets water
In the City
If you’re stuck in the city, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can go without the right gear.
Sunlight can also reflect off of buildings, cars, and concrete streets. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a bright sunny day or a hazy one. UV rays can affect your eyes and skin through cloud cover.
On the mountainSunlight can also reflect off of ice and snow. If you participate in sports such as mountain climbing, snowboarding, or skiing, you’re at risk for photokeratitis if you don’t protect your eyes. This type of photokeratitis is known as snow blindness.
Not all sunglasses are created equal. To ensure that your eyes get the protection they need, make sure your eyeglasses block or absorb 99 to 100 percent of UV rays.
When you’re skiing or enjoying other snow sports, wear sunglasses or goggles that provide this same level of protection. Wearing a helmet can also help.
Never use a tanning bed without wearing protective eye gear. Also try to keep your eyes closed as much as possible.
The bottom line
Just like skin, your eyes are vulnerable to getting sunburned from too much exposure to UV rays. This condition, called photokeratitis, usually goes away on its own within a few days. In the short term, UV ray exposure and eye sunburn can cause uncomfortable symptoms.
In the long term, serious conditions, such as cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and eyelid cancer may result. It’s important to protect your eyes from the sun, and to take special care when you’re in high altitudes where air is thin, and UV rays are strong.