Precautions taken to avoid ultraviolet light damage from the sun for the protection our skin is highly stressed within the healthcare system because the effects of sun damaged skin could be irreversible. However, did you know the sun could do just as much damage to your eyes? Photokeratitis, or the result of prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, is a painful eye condition that occurs when the eyes are exposed to large amounts UV rays without protection. Many describe Photokeratitis as the sunburn of the eye.
Ultraviolet rays are the culprit of Photokeratitis. While ultraviolet rays primarily come from the sun, they also can reflect off surfaces such as sand, water, ice or snow, which can cause as much damage as staring directly into the sun. Not only can natural UV rays cause Photokeratitis, but UV rays could also have long-term effects on your eyes, causing conditions such as macular degeneration and cataracts. In addition to the sun’s natural UV rays, the eyes can be severely damaged from manmade UV rays such as from tanning beds and arc welding. These manmade UV rays cause corneal burns called Corneal Flash Burns that can present the same symptoms as Photokeratitis.
Symptoms of Photokeratitis and Corneal Flash Burns include: burning sensations, red eyes, swollen eyes or lids, watery eyes, sensitivity to light, headaches, eyelid twitching, temporary color change, and/or glare and halos around lights. The symptoms should resolve on their own within 24-48 hours. If the symptoms persist, notify a doctor. An eye care professional can diagnose Photokeratitis or Corneal Flash Burns by examining your eyes. They could use eye drops with florescent dye to examine the extent of UV damage.
To subside the pain caused by Photokeratitis and Corneal Flash Burns try holding a cold washcloth over closed eyes, staying indoors, keeping eyes moist with artificial tears or eye drops, or taking OTC pain relievers. Make sure you do not rub your eyes and remove contact lenses.
The best way to prevent Photokeratitis or Corneal Flash Burns is to protect your eyes. Wearing 100% UV protected or polarized sunglasses while skiing or outside in the sun is essential to preventing eye damage. In addition, wearing protective eyewear when working with manmade UV rays from tanning beds or arc welding could be essential to keeping your eyes healthy.