Sunburned Eyes Treatment, Symptoms & how long it lasts

Suffering from sunburned eyes? Find out what is eye sunburn, how it happens, the duration it lasts, symptoms relief and treatment options.

What is eye sunburn?-can your eyes get sunburned?

Eye sunburn meaning

Eye sunburn, often known as photokeratitis, is a condition caused by exposure of the eyes to the ultra violet rays of the sun or any other light producing object. It occurs when your eyes are exposed for a long time causing a burning sensation and a painful eye condition. Occasionally, this is accompanied by blurred vision.

Keratitis is usually very painful. Despite this, it is believed to be reversible and can go away within a short time or a few days.

Jeff Pettey, a clinical spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology says that sunburn occurs essentially on the cornea and the conjunctiva- the white part of your eye. He also adds that you are likely to get sunburned often during the summer season due the prolonged exposure to strong sunlight without cover or protection.

Moreover, there is a form of photokeratitis known as snow blindness which occurs when UV light is reflected to the eye by ice or snow.[1] This condition occurs to persons who live mostly in regions where the climate is cold and dry.

Snow blindness may also be characterized by drying up of cornea or freezing of the surface of the front of the eye, which is commonly experienced during activities such as mountain climbing and skiing.

In most cases, eye sunburn is accompanied by various symptoms such as temporary vision loss. These symptoms are coming up in details shortly .

How can you get your eye sunburned?

Studies show that you can easily get sunburned if your eyes are exposed to sunlight for quite a long time with no protection. Just like your skin, eyes too can get burned by the sun. The effects might not affect you at the moment but with time they can bring a lot of harm to your eyes in the future.

You can get your eye sunburned when the cornea and conjunctiva of the eye is radiated by the ultra violet rays from the sun. This can occur in either your eyes or one eye. However, other light from any light producing object, either man-made or natural can cause photokeratitis.

When you look directly into the sun during the solar eclipse, it is likely that you would suffer from photokeratitis. In fact, this is associated with a more serious case of damaging the retina of the eye, a condition which is permanent.

Sun burning occurs when the cells of the eyelid gets damaged which causes the rays penetrate to the inner cells of the eye. When these rays reach your cornea, they damage the cells and tissues of cornea leading to blurred vision, a condition that prevents you from seeing objects clearly. This also facilitates growth of unnecessary tissues which when they increase in size will lead to permanent blindness.

In addition, studies have shown that the retina of the eye when affected by the Ultra violet rays will lead to macular degeneration and cataracts. Cataracts refer to a condition in which the eye lenses (which are naturally clear) are clouded causing vision defects. These in many cases lead to permanent visual impairment.

Additionally, photokeratitis can be caused by reflection of sun’s radiation on snow, sand, water or ice. Other causes are manmade objects such as lamps and tanning bed. Welding sparks can also lead to sunburned eyes.


Photokeratitis or ultraviolet keratitis
Eye sunburn pic #1


sunburned eyes-causes-treatment




How long does it last?

Generally, photokeratitis starts just a few hours after you are exposed to direct sunlight with no protection of the sunglasses. Despite this, mild eye sunburn takes a short period of about two to five days to go away. Moderate and severe sunburns will take more days to heal.

Although, you might have your sunburns taking abnormally longer healing period and for this case it is recommended that you see a doctor for medical attention.

In most cases, you find that despite that eye sunburn takes a short time to heal; it also has long term shortcomings. This is because it causes damaging of the eye tissues and eventually leading to eye infections such as cataracts.

Through thorough examination, the doctor is likely to diagnose photokeratitis and help you at early stages before the condition gets worse. When you suspect that you have eye sunburns, it’s recommended that you visit your doctor for a checkup.

The duration taken by the eye sunburn to heal differs from one individual the other. Some of the factors that affect the healing period are as follows;

Your health status

For a very healthy person, eye sunburn takes a shorter period to go away as compared to a less healthy individual. Many persons take two to three days for their cornea to heal and get back to their usual state.

The period of exposure

If you had a longer period of exposure to the ultra violet rays then you are likely to take more days for your cornea to fully recover its initial condition.

Age of an individual

In most cases you will find that children are likely to take longer during the healing process as compared to adults. Furthermore, studies show that the teenagers are at higher risk of getting eye sunburns as compared to the adults.

As a result, Mr. Arundel asks parents and adults to ensure that children where protective sunglasses whenever they are outdoors.

Eye health condition

The health condition of your eyes greatly determines how long it would take eye sun burns to heal. If you have other infections in your eyes or when your eyes have some defaults then it’s likely that you will take longer to heal as compared to an individual without eye problem.

Sunburned Eyelids symptoms

Generally, when affected by eye sunburns, you are likely to have symptoms of which most of them go away on their own. These are as discussed below;

Pain in the eye

On exposure to the UV light, you are likely to experience pain in the eyes.[2] This pain might be mild in the beginning and gets severe with time. Sometimes this condition causes inflammation of the tissues around the eye such as eye lids which impact pain in the eye.

Severe headaches

When you have your eyes burned b the sun, you are likely to suffer from head pains. These are believed to be as a result of activity or exercise. Just like the eye pain, headaches get from mild to severe cases.

Blurred vision

This is a condition in which you are not able to clearly see fine objects. However, despite you having eye sunburns, blurred vision may be an indication of an eye infection. You are therefore advised to go for an eye check up if the blurred vision persists.


Photophobia is a condition in which your eyes become sensitive to light such that you cannot tolerate light from any source. In most cases you find that your eyes shed tears on exposure to light. This condition is usually very irritating to deal with.

Occasionally, you are forced to blink or close your eyes due to the sensitivity of the eye nerves and cells to light. Often this causes headache as a result of too much straining.

Burning sensation.

Eye sunburn is almost similar to that of the skin. Just like the skin, when your eyes are burned they become inflamed. As a result, you experience a burning feeling in the eyes.

Temporary loss of vision.

Sometimes, when you have sunburns, your sight or ability to see objects might diminish with time. When this occurs, with only a little field of vision it seems like a blurred vision.

In addition, temporary loss of vision may either affect one or both eyes. This occurs for a short period of time and goes away with time.

Swollen eyes.

Occasionally, you may have swollen eyes when affected by photokeratitis. In most cases the eyes swell as a result of pain experienced from eye pain and headaches.

Watery eyes.

This refers to a condition in which your eyes shed excessive tears. In most cases this happens when air enters the eyes which leaves them wet with tears. Often, this is accompanied by water fluid from the nasal cavity.

Other symptoms that you are likely to experience when affected by sunburns in the eye include; constricted pupils, eyelid twitching and gritty feeling.

In some cases, you might experience change in color of the eye, though such cases are rare. Despite these, the change in color maybe an indication of a more serious condition such as an infection.

Treatment & Relief

However, most symptoms associated with photokeratitis heal on their own, treatment is necessary so as to make you have an easy time during the healing process.

Moreover, sunburned eyes need treatment because if you stay untreated for a prolonged period, this condition may worsen leading to permanent damaging of the eye cells.

In addition to this, when left untreated they may cause cataracts and in some cases eye cancer. For these reasons treatment is very helpful and it includes the following;

How to get rid at home

You can get rid of sunburns at home by taking the following actions;

Boosting your balanced diet.

According to the recent research done by the National Institutes of Health and National Eye Institute, there are certain nutrients which when you eat they help you prevent eye problems related to age, infection and also the sunburns.

You are advised to eat foods such as green vegetables such as spinach and kales. These foods contain natural antioxidants which smoothens the skin and protect it from damage by substances such as sunlight.

Use of nutritional supplements.

You are advised to use the available sources of the required nutrients in your diet. This is recommended when you are unable to access the nutrients from their natural sources.

Using cold object to compress.

You are advised to use very cold objects such as ice cubes to compress around your eyes. This is an excellent way of reducing pain in the eyes. It also helps relieve irritation and swelling of the eye tissues.

Lubricating eye drops.

It is highly recommended that you use lubricants. These may help you in lubricating the eyes. For instance, an Ocular lubricant is a fluid used in making the eyes wet preventing too much dryness.

You can use this solution for getting rid of the burning sensation of the eye. Moreover, it can be used to reduce irritability brought about by dry eyes.

Relief Remedies

To relief the effects of sunburn on the eyes especially during the healing process, you are urged to do the following;

  • It is advised that you avoid direct sunlight rays by staying indoors all through or if it is required that you go out of the house then use sunglasses for protection.
  • You are also required to avoid rubbing your eyes as much as possible since rubbing your eyes irritates them more leading to increased pain.
  • During the healing process, you are recommended to use preservative free artificial tears to make your eyes hydrating. This will make you feel better as they prevent drying up of the conjunctiva.

Medication for treatment

Eye sunburn treatment is an important step to take since if you don’t get treated, the symptoms may result to permanent sight loss. If you receive treatment on time you prevent the worsening of the situation and making it easier to heal as discussed earlier in this article.

The following treatment options may be advised by your doctor;

Use of antibiotics

Dr. Pretty says that you should use antibiotics to prevent infections which might occur later as a result of eye sunburn. Infections that occur if eye sunburns are not well treated may lead to damage of your cornea. Therefore to prevent this you are advised to use antibiotics.

 Use of anti- inflammatory eye drops.

When you find that your eyes are burned, the use of eye drops will greatly help you. These eye drops usually make the healing process more comfortable alienating you from more pain.

Anti- inflammatory eye drops also help in getting rid of symptoms like eye inflammation and swelling. You should always remember that you are discouraged from purchasing the eye drop by yourself. Instead, a professional in health care should advice you on when and how to use it.

Use of pain relievers.

When the pain caused by sunburns is mild, you can use pain killer drugs such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. You can acquire these drugs over the counter or prescribed by your doctor. However, it is highly encouraged that if the pain persists you should visit a professional for a checkup.


Generally, you are advised to prevent the occurrence of photokeratitis when possible so as to avoid going through too much pain which is experienced from this condition. The measures to be taken include;

Protect yourself from direct sunlight especially during long exposure to the sun. You can do this by making sure you wear UV light blocking sunglasses. Experts at Huston University emphasize on wearing protective sunglasses even on cloudy days. They argue that you can still be affected by the sun even when still behind the clouds.

Refraining yourself from contact lenses especially when already having sunburned eyes. This prevents the condition from worsening. You are also urged to drink plenty of water so as to avoid dehydration.

Dr. Natasha insists that you should wear the right sunglasses. She emphasizes that some sunglasses do not protect you from sunburns. She therefore recommends that you wear those with UVA and UVB protection.

You can also protect yourself from eye sunburns by reducing the frequency of exposure to direct sun rays. This is because when you stay under sun often, you will become prone not only to eye sunburns but also to skin cancer and cataracts.

In addition to wearing sunglasses, make sure you cover yourself with side shields. The shields that you use should offer protection both direct and indirect sunlight.

Regular eye examination by your doctor can also help prevent eye sunburns. During these checkups, you realize that some of the infections in your eyes are diagnosed on time preventing further complications which may worsen in future.

Moreover, your eye specialist will be able to note the early signs of eye sunburn therefore taking action on time and advising you accordingly.

When you are dealing with welding works, make sure that you wear quality protective clothing such as helmets. These ensures that the light from the welding equipment do not cause destruction to the eyes.

How to deal with swollen eyes from sunburn

Sometimes you may have swollen eyes from sunlight, if this happens, you need not to worry. In such a case, drink plenty of water to keep you hydrated.

In addition to this, mixing yoghurt, turmeric and barley in the same amounts to make a paste and applying it on the swollen region can greatly help you in relieving the swelling.[3]





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