Dr. Shonah Finlay Doctors Eye Care
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Can You Sunburn Your Eyes?

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A senior man outside using his hand to block the sun and protect his eyes.

If you’ve ever spent too long outside with your skin exposed to the sun, you’ve likely dealt with a sunburn. That red and irritating feeling is a quick way to put a damper on your day. However, many people don’t realize that your skin isn’t the only thing to worry about; protecting your eyes from the sun is also crucial.

Prolonged exposure to the sun’s rays can cause eye sunburns and significantly increase the risk of certain eye conditions. Whenever you’re exposed to the sun, you should always try to protect your vision with a quality pair of UV-blocking sunglasses.

What Are UV Rays?

Ultraviolet (UV) rays are a form of radiation that comes from the sun. Excessive UV exposure can damage your eyes and increase your risk of several sight-threatening conditions, including:

  • Cataracts: Clouding of the eye’s lens, causing blurry vision.
  • Age-related macular degeneration: Damage to the macula, leading to central vision loss.
  • Pterygium (surfer’s eye): Abnormal tissue growth on the white of the eye.
  • Cancer: An increased risk of some types of eye cancer.

However, it’s not just about long-term problems and the risk of these conditions. Your eyes are delicate, and it’s entirely possible to sunburn them.

Sunburned Eyes: Is It Possible?

When your eyes are exposed to UV radiation, they can quickly become damaged. This is called “photokeratitis,” a burn on the cornea, the transparent dome on the front of the eye, or the conjunctiva, the whites of the eyes. It can cause symptoms like:

  • Pain or a gritty sensation, as if there’s sand in your eyes
  • Redness and swelling in the affected area
  • Excessive tearing or watering of the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light, causing discomfort in bright environments
  • Blurred vision or halos around lights

How to Treat Sunburned Eyes

If you suspect your eyes are sunburned, finding relief is key. To prevent discomfort and encourage a swift recovery, try to:

  • Get out of the sun; retreat indoors or even just into a shaded area.
  • Use lubricating eye drops to soothe and moisturize your eyes.
  • Apply a cold compress to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes, which can worsen irritation.
  • Wear sunglasses when outside.

While these measures can provide relief, it’s important to monitor your symptoms. If they persist or worsen, seek professional advice. While sunburned eyes can be irritating, they can easily be mistaken for other conditions, so visit a healthcare professional if your symptoms worsen.

Tips for Protecting Your Eyes from the Sun

When it comes to photokeratitis, prevention is often easier than a cure. If you’re planning on spending time outside, try to make a point to:

  • Use a wide-brimmed hat to shield your face, neck, and eyes.
  • Seek shade whenever possible, especially during peak sunlight hours.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Wear a proper pair of UV-blocking sunglasses.

Your vision is invaluable, and taking proactive steps today can preserve it for the future. 

How to Choose a Pair of Sunglasses

You don’t have to sacrifice style for protection—plenty of fashionable sunglasses also offer excellent UV protection. A qualified and skilled optician can help you find the right pair of sunglasses 

Not all sunglasses are created equal. Make sure your chosen pair provides 100% UVA and UVB protection. 

A smiling young woman working with her optometrist to find the right pair of sunglasses.

Beyond UV protection, consider polarization for additional benefits. Polarized lenses reduce glare from reflective surfaces like water, snow, and pavement, enhancing comfort and clarity.

However, polarized lenses can slightly affect how you see digital screens. If reading e-books, checking your phone, or using GPS outdoors are regular activities, a non-polarized pair might be a better choice. 

You can find both polarized and non-polarized sunglasses in prescription and non-prescription options to suit your individual needs.

When to See Your Optometrist

Soak up the sun, but safeguard your vision. Whether you’ve experienced sunburned eyes or simply want to prioritize healthy sight, our team at Doctors EyeCare Grande Prairie is here to help. Don’t let summer become a strain on your eyes. Schedule an appointment today and enjoy the season!

Written by Dr. Shonah Finlay

Dr. Finlay grew up by the gold mines in South Africa and knew from a young age she wanted to follow a medically related career. She applied to and was accepted to study optometry at the former Rand Afrikaans University in South Africa. During her last year of studies, Dr. Finlay worked on the Train of Hope: South Africa’s Phelophepa. This custom-built train (now 2) travels throughout rural South Africa to deliver top-quality primary healthcare to disadvantaged communities. It was a wonderful experience to bring sight to so many people that otherwise do without. Those memories always remind her of why she loves practicing optometry.
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