Blog Hero

Can You Sunburn Your Eyes?

Book Appointment
A man on top of a mountain wearing sporty sunglasses and a backpack while hiking with poles

For many patients, it’s common knowledge that sunglasses are essential for protecting your eyes. Overexposure to UV light can lead to serious complications, but how does the sun affect your eyes if you forget to wear your sunglasses for a day? 

Is it possible to sunburn your eyes? 

Don’t Mess with the Sun

Summertime brings sunshine and warmth, but UV rays can leave you with a nasty burn if you aren’t careful. Your skin is sensitive to the sun, which can lead to potential damage. However, you need to be worried about more than just your skin. 

Overexposure to UV light can sunburn your eyes, similar to how the sun can burn your skin. This exposure can cause temporary damage to several parts of the eye, including the retina, lens, conjunctiva, and the cornea’s surface

Besides immediate irritation, sun exposure can increase your risk of several eye conditions, including: 

The severity of damage to your eyes depends on how much exposure they receive from the sun. Surprisingly, sunburned eyes aren’t only a summertime problem—this condition is commonly called snow blindness. 

What Is Snow Blindness? 

Snow blindness, also known as photokeratitis, occurs when you sunburn your eyes. Many people refer to this condition as snow blindness because it’s a common condition in snowy or highly elevated places. The reflectiveness of snow, sand, and water can make sunburned eyes a risk whether you’re snowboarding, swimming, or boating. 

This condition isn’t a risk for your vision, but it can be uncomfortable to deal with. Your eyes will typically heal after getting out of the sun and resting them, but you may experience several symptoms, including: 

  • Eye pain
  • Gritty eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Red and swollen eyelids
  • Headache
  • Blurry vision
  • Watery eyes
  • Temporary vision loss

What Causes Snow Blindness?

Photokeratitis happens because of overexposure to UV light from the sun, causing a sunburn on your cornea. The cornea’s outer layer is sensitive, and sunburning this area can cause pain and other symptoms. 

Damage to the eye can occur without looking directly at the sun because UV light reflects off of different surfaces, particularly snow, sand, water, and ice. In some cases, man-made UV light, like tanning beds, can cause photokeratitis if you don’t protect your eyes. 

A man in a winter coat and snow goggles against a white background covering his eyes with both hands

Can You Treat Snow Blindness? 

While snow blindness doesn’t last long, it can lower your quality of life. In general, you can expect symptoms to improve within a couple of days. In the meantime, you can keep yourself comfortable by managing your symptoms. 

Follow some of these tips to help treat snow blindness:

  • Stay inside to avoid additional sun exposure
  • Use over-the-counter eye drops to keep your eyes hydrated and comfortable
  • Manage pain by taking an over-the-counter pain reliever 
  • Place a cold compress over your eyes to reduce eye pain
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes to prevent irritation

Snow blindness doesn’t typically cause significant complications, but keep an eye on your symptoms. You should visit your optometrist for an eye exam if your symptoms worsen after 24 hours or last longer than a few days. 

Your eye doctor can determine what’s causing your symptoms and recommend a treatment plan to help you find relief. 

How Can You Avoid Sunburned Eyes? 

The best way to prevent sunburned eyes is to invest in sun protection. Sunglasses are your friend whenever you’re around the sun. However, you need the right sunglasses for the job. 

Choose sunglasses that block 99 to 100% of UV rays to protect your vision. Besides sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat can help prevent the sun from hitting your eyes. Wear sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes when in the snow or near a body of water. 

Invest in Quality Sunglasses

The sun has many benefits, but make sure to respect the damage it can do. Sunburned eyes aren’t your only concern with UV rays—overexposure to the sun can increase your risk of eye disease. Quality UV-blocking sunglasses are a great way to protect your eyes. Whether you’re in the snow, on the go or off the shore, your team of opticians at West Coast Optical can recommend the best sunglasses suited for your needs.

Written by West Coast Optical

instagram facebook facebook2 pinterest twitter google-plus google linkedin2 yelp youtube phone location calendar share2 link star-full star star-half chevron-right chevron-left chevron-down chevron-up envelope fax