UV radiation from the sun is an essential part of human health, but, as everyone knows, overexposure to sunlight can burn the skin, causing discomfort and pain. Skin is not the only cell tissue that can be harmed by sunlight. Eye pain and loss of vision can result from corneal damage caused by overexposure to sunlight. The medical term for this damage is photokeratitis.
How Sunburned Corneas Occur
The cornea is the clear tissue that covers the iris, or colored portion of the eye. The cornea is the eye’s first line of defense, protecting the other eye parts from the elements. Though transparent, the cells of the cornea are not very different from those of the skin. Ultraviolet radiation can cause flash burns, experienced as acute eye pain and temporary blindness in extreme cases. Common sources of this radiation include tanning beds, staring into the sun or at a solar eclipse, light from welding torches, and sunlight reflected off of water. Perhaps the most common way people get sunburned corneas is from snow blindness, or light reflected off of snow at high elevations.
What to Do if Experiencing Sunburned Corneas
Prevention is always the most effective way to avoid the eye pain of photokeratitis. Avoid looking directly at eclipses and always use protective eyewear when skiing, boating, or performing any task where the cornea is exposed to sunlight or other UV radiation. People experiencing eye pain, loss of vision, or other symptoms of photokeratitis, such as bloodshot eyes or a gritty feeling under the eyelids, should immediately remove any contact lenses and place a cold washcloth over closed eyes. Like sunburned skin, the cell tissue will eventually repair itself.
Avoid sunburned corneas by taking the necessary precautions. If symptoms persist, schedule an eye exam or seek medical attention.