Photokeratitis: Can Your Eyes Get Sunburnt?

Learn about photokeratitis, the sunburn of the eyes, from our optometrist. Understand causes, symptoms, treatments, and prevention strategies.

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Photokeratitis: Can Your Eyes Get Sunburnt? Optometrist

Amplify EyeCare optometrists have often come across patients who were not aware that the sun could potentially harm their eyes. It's not widely known, but just as your skin can get sunburnt, so too can your eyes, this is especially true for children who are more susceptible to photokeratitis. This condition is called photokeratitis.

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Protecting Your Child’s Eyes From The Sun

According to the World Health Organization, a child will have received 80% of their lifelong UV exposure from the sun by the age of 18. Children are more at risk due to the lack of filtering present in their eye, as well as the increased likelihood of them looking for extended periods of time in the sun. It is important to ensure that your child is wearing UV protection and understands the danger of excessive exposure to the sun.

What is Photokeratitis?

Photokeratitis is a condition that results from the eyes' overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. In layman's terms, photokeratitis is akin to a sunburn but occurs in the eyes. Some might even call it a snow blindness, as it frequently happens in snowy environments where the UV rays reflect off the white surface and into the eyes. However, this doesn't mean it only happens in the snow. Photokeratitis can occur anywhere as long as the eyes are exposed to intense UV radiation without appropriate protection.

What causes Photokeratitis?

What causes Photokeratitis?

There are several causes that can lead to photokeratitis. The most common cause is, unsurprisingly, exposure to bright sunlight without wearing sunglasses or eyewear with UV protection.

Other photokeratitis causes may include:

  • Use of tanning beds without appropriate eye protection
  • Reflection of sunlight off water or snow
  • Certain types of light bulbs, such as halogen
  • Prolonged exposure to the sun during peak hours
  • Direct exposure to a solar eclipse without protective eyewear
What Are the Symptoms of Photokeratitis?

What Are the Symptoms of Photokeratitis?

Recognizing the symptoms of photokeratitis can help you seek timely treatment and prevent potential permanent damage. Common symptoms include:

  • Redness in the eyes
  • A gritty feeling, as if there's sand in your eyes
  • Extreme sensitivity to light
  • Excessive tearing or watering of the eyes
  • Blurred vision or temporary vision loss
  • Swelling around the eyes

If you're experiencing these symptoms and suspect you might have photokeratitis, we advise you to seek immediate attention from our eye care professional.

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Photokeratitis Treatment

Photokeratitis Treatment

Photokeratitis treatment primarily involves alleviating the symptoms and allowing the eyes to heal. This often includes:

  • Avoiding further exposure to sunlight or bright lights
  • Using cold compresses to soothe the eyes
  • Applying prescribed photokeratitis eye drops
  • In more severe cases, steroidal treatments to reduce inflammation
  • In more severe cases amniotic membranes may be recommended to promote healing

At Amplify EyeCare, we specialize in diagnosing and treating photokeratitis. If you suspect you may have this condition, you can reach out to your nearest Amplify EyeCare practice either via a call or in-person visit.

Photokeratitis Home Remedy

While seeking professional help is crucial, there are some photokeratitis home remedies you can try to alleviate discomfort:

  • Stay in a darkened room to rest your eyes
  • Use a cool, damp cloth over your eyes
  • Stay hydrated
  • Use over-the-counter lubricating eye drops

Remember, these remedies only help manage the discomfort and do not replace the need for professional medical intervention.

Is Photokeratitis Permanent?

One of the most common questions we get asked is, "Is photokeratitis permanent?" While it can cause severe discomfort, photokeratitis usually does not cause permanent damage. The cornea usually heals itself within 24 to 48 hours. However, repeated exposure leading to chronic photokeratitis can cause long-term damage and contribute to conditions like cataracts and macular degeneration

Alternative Names for Photokeratitis

Photokeratitis is known by several alternative names, which often refer to the circumstances that typically cause the condition. Some of these include:

Snow Blindness: This term is used due to the common occurrence of photokeratitis in snowy environments, where UV rays reflect off the snow, causing intense exposure to the eyes.

Arc Eye: This term is often used in industrial settings, as it refers to photokeratitis caused by exposure to the intense light produced by welding arcs.

Ultraviolet Keratitis: This name refers directly to the cause of the condition, which is overexposure to UV (ultraviolet) radiation.

Welder's Flash or Welder's Burn: Similar to 'Arc Eye,' these terms are often used in the context of occupational exposure, specifically in welding, where workers may be exposed to high levels of UV light.

Remember, regardless of the term used, all these conditions refer to the same issue: damage to the cornea due to overexposure to UV light.

What causes Photokeratitis?
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Common Questions

Yes, the whites of your eyes, known as the sclera, can get sunburned, although it's more common for the cornea and conjunctiva to be affected by UV radiation. Prolonged exposure to intense sunlight without adequate eye protection can lead to a condition known as photokeratitis, which is essentially a sunburn of the eyes. It's crucial to wear sunglasses with UV protection, especially in environments with increased UV exposure like beaches or snowy terrains. If someone suspects their eyes have been sunburned, they should seek advice from an optometrist or eye doctor to ensure proper care.
Absolutely. Prolonged or intense exposure to UV radiation from the sun can damage the cornea, leading to photokeratitis or corneal sunburn. This damage can result in pain, vision disturbances, and other symptoms. While the cornea has a remarkable ability to heal, repeated sun damage can increase the risk of more severe eye conditions in the future. To prevent such damage, one should always wear UV-protective sunglasses during prolonged sun exposure.
Photokeratitis, often described as a sunburn of the eyes, is typically a temporary condition. Symptoms can be painful and distressing but usually resolve on their own within 24 to 48 hours. During this time, it's recommended to avoid further sun exposure, rest the eyes, and avoid bright lights. If the pain is severe or if symptoms persist beyond 48 hours, it would be wise to consult an optometrist.
Diagnosis of photokeratitis involves a thorough examination by an eye doctor. The patient's history, especially recent exposure to intense UV light or sunlight without proper eye protection, can be a telling indicator. The eye doctor might use a slit lamp, a device that shines a bright light into the eye, to closely examine the cornea and detect any signs of damage or inflammation. The slit lamp allows the optometrist to view the eye in detail, including the cornea, conjunctiva, and eyelids, which might exhibit signs of UV damage.
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Don't Ignore the Signs of Photokeratitis: Take Action for Your Eye Health Today

As an optometry clinic, we have seen first-hand the discomfort and risks that photokeratitis, or 'sunburn of the eyes', can bring. While typically not causing permanent damage, it can be extremely painful and uncomfortable, and repeated exposure can lead to long-term eye health issues.

If you're experiencing symptoms like redness, a gritty feeling in your eyes, sensitivity to light, or excessive tearing, don't delay seeking help. As previously mentioned, reaching out to your nearest Amplify EyeCare practice is possible through a phone call or an in-person visit. Our team of eye care professionals is prepared and equipped to provide you with the necessary care you need.

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