Sunburned Eyes – Symptoms and Treatment

You went out to tan and now have sunburned eyes to show for it? Then read on to get a comprehensive highlight of this common problem. In addition to symptoms and treatment approaches at your disposal, we have also included handy tips to help you avoid getting your eyes and face damaged while you enjoy the sun.

Can You Sunburn Your Eyes or Can Your Eyes Get Sunburned

The question, “can you sunburn your eyes?” often pops up in online forums from among the health-conscious community members. The simple answer to this question is, yes, your eyes can get sunburned.

Eye sunburn is typically the result of excessive and prolonged exposure to the UV rays from the sun. Although sunburned eyes are commonly associated with outdoor exposure to the sun, tanning beds can also give you, eyes that are sunburned, if you forget to wear tanning bed UV protection goggles.

According to the Health Physics Society, eyes are especially susceptible to damage from the use of tanning beds – in fact more prone that the skin – even when closed because. Indeed research shows that UV radiation in tanning beds is as high as 100 times more to that from the sun and although the eyelids are somewhat protective from sun’s UV while closed, they are not effective in protecting your eyes from UV from the tanning beds.

Sunburned Eyes or Sunburn around Eyes

Excessive exposure to the damaging ultraviolet rays, or UV rays, from the sun (or any other source e.g. tanning beds), more so without protecting your skin with sunscreen can cause damage to your skin including sunburn and other skin-ageing related problems ranging from wrinkles, thinning of  the skin, dark spots, pore enlargement, dryness, not to forget skin cancers.

What you may probably not have realized is that UV rays from the sun can as well damage your eyes. Sunburned eyes often appear dull, cloudy, and discolored and the white parts of those small globes that have always been there for your vision may become reddish or yellowish in appearance and in more severe cases, cataracts may develop.

The pupil and/or the iris of the eye (the colored circular part of the eye) may as well develop growth as a result of the sunburn.

Although sunburned eyes heal within a few days, the damaging effect of the sun is permanent and can become a trigger for poor vision and eyelid cancers many years down the line. This means that prevention is the best treatment option for sunburned eyes.

The risk of sunburn around eyes is especially higher for children since their pupils are “…generally more dilated and their eye tissues let in more light” according to Val Jones, MD, a medical author of the “Dr. Val and the Voice of Reason” blog.

Light reflecting surfaces, such as snow capped grounds and peaks, sandy surfaces, and ocean surfaces also increase the intensity of Ultraviolet radiation and care should thus be taken while in the proximity of such environments.

Preventing sunburn on eyes

The importance of protecting your eyes – and the skin as well for that matter – from the harmful effect of UV rays can never be over-emphasized. You can reduce your risk of getting sunburned eyes by observing the following tips:

  • Protect your face and skin with a good sunscreen: According to Val Jones, MD, a medical author of the “Dr. Val and the Voice of Reason” blog, you should always wear a sunscreen of SPF 30 or more when going out and that includes on sunny days when 77 percent of the sun’s UV rays still make their way through the clouds.

Dr. Val Jones suggests reapplying an ounce (shot glass) of sunscreen every couple hours that you are in the sun.

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses: This protects your eyes and skin from the harmful UV rays while outdoors.
  • Take it further with contact lenses: Wearing UV-protecting contact lenses is yet another option in ensuring optimum protection from the UV rays. Dr. Vale Jones however points out that not all contact lenses out there offers UV rays protection. She recommends ACUVUE® OASYS® Contact Lenses saying that they protect your eyes from as much as 90 percent of UV-A rays and 99 percent of UV-B rays.

 WebMD website suggests looking for sunglasses that have labels stating that they offer UV absorption up to 400 nanometers (nm) which would provide you with UV protection of up to 100 percent.

Symptoms of Sunburned Eyes

Pain, redness, and dryness are the most common symptoms of sunburned eyes. You might also experience decreased vision and feel as though you have some foreign objects in your eyes (feeling gritty) after getting sunburn of the eyes.

The symptoms generally begin a few hours down the line after getting exposed to the sun (or UV radiation from tanning beds) and usually go away in just a few days, but you should seek medical attention if they don’t clear away.

Remember also that no matter how short a time it takes for the symptoms to clear, the damage caused to your eyes is permanent and can cause you problems such as clouded vision or eyelid cancer many years down the line.

Swollen Eyes from Sunburn

Some patients complain of having swollen eyes from sunburn. The swelling and other symptoms usually improves with the use of anti-inflammatory eye drops which can be bought over the counter in most local drugstores (pharmacies).

If the swelling however doesn’t seem to recede several days down the line, however, say in a matter of one week, you should see your doctor for evaluation.

Sunburned Eyes Treatment or What to Do For Sunburned Eyes

You went out in the sun over the weekend and are now what to do for sunburned eyes? Well, don’t fret, the symptoms will clear away by themselves, but there are numerous sunburned eyes treatment approaches that you may want to consider to ensure speedy healing including:

  • Stay in the dark for a few hours everyday to minimize the amount of light entering your eyes
  • Use lubrication eye drops. As with any medications, you should follow the instructions carefully.
  • Use anti-inflammatory eye drops to relieve the pain
  • If the symptoms still persist – or seem to worsen – a few days down the line (a week or so), seek medical attention immediately.
  • For mild sunburn around eyes (on the eyelids), taking anti-inflammatory medications such as naproxen or ibuprofen (Tylenol), applying a mild skin moisturizer and using cold compresses several times a day can help to reduce the redness and pain.

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