How to Treat Sunburned Eyes

It’s second nature for most of us to lather our skin with sunscreen before heading outdoors, but we often forget about the risk UV radiation poses to our eyes — even if you’re wearing sunglasses.

Sunglasses don’t always protect your eyes from the sun’s rays, which can have the same negative effect as it does on skin, according to Dr. Richard A. Norden, a leading laser specialist and founder of NORDEN Laser Eye Associates in Ridgewood, NJ. “It’s not enough to just wear any sunglasses—quality matters.”

So how do you know if your eyes are sunburned and what you can do to protect them? Here are some common symptoms as well as treatment and prevention tips.

How Do I Know If My Eyes Are Sunburned?

The symptoms of sunburned eyes include redness or irritation, tearing, blurry vision and temporary vision loss, called ‘photokeratitis,’ explains Dr. Norden. The feeling is similar to too much chlorine or sand in your eye, but with sunburned eyes you may actually be in pain versus some discomfort. If you look directly into the sun or at its reflection you can experience more severe symptoms like temporary vision loss.

How to Treat Sunburned Eyes

If you think you have burned eyes, medical sources suggest applying lubricating drops and to see a doctor as soon as possible. Typical treatment includes cool, wet compresses and artificial tears for local pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) eye drops are used to reduce inflammation and eye pain, and oral pain medication is prescribed for severe discomfort. You should also seek isolation in a dark room, remove contact lenses, avoid rubbing your eyes, and cover them until the symptoms improve. Recovery usually takes one to three days. Check out the American Optometric Association for more information.

How You Can Protect Your Peepers

“Find sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of UV light and pair them with a three-inch wide-brimmed hat,” recommends Dr. Norden. Keep in mind that you need to be the most careful when the sun is at its brightest from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Remember that the sun and its UVA/UVB rays are harmful to the eye even when it’s cloudy. “Too many people underestimate the sun’s power and don’t realize that excessive exposure over a long period of time can and will do permanent damage to children and adults,” says Dr. Norden. Your vision can become impaired, and you can get cataracts, benign growths on the eye, skin cancer of the eyelids and surrounding tissue, and possibly macular degeneration. “These cumulative long-term effects mean you must take care of your eyes before it’s too late.”

Even though temperatures are highest during summer, your eyes can become sunburned year-round. “As long as the sun still exists, this will be an issue,” warns Dr. Norden. UV rays from the sun cannot only penetrate clouds, but they’re also present when the temperature drops in cooler months so year-round protection is key.

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Lucy Segal is a health & beauty and lifestyle expert. She’s a freelance TV Host and News Anchor and can be seen on the TODAY show, NY Live, and as a host for KnowMore TV. Additional research for this story was conducted by Brynn DiLonardo, a communications intern who recently graduated from Fairfield University.