Experts discuss dangers of sunburned eyes, offer tips to protect your peepers

Posted at 10:14 PM, Jul 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-05 00:14:09-04

SALT LAKE CITY – People often hear reminders to wear sunscreen to protect their skin, but many are unaware that eyes can also suffer sunburns.

For our skin there is sunscreen, and for our eyes sunglasses are one method of protection.

“I know that your eyes can be damaged by the sun if you don't wear them, and usually I have glasses on her or a hat, but she won't wear them today,” Rachelle Hague said of her and her daughter.

Ophthalmologists say the term for damage to the eyes from sun is photokeratitis.

“The surface of the eye begins to break down, becomes very light-sensitive, very irritated and in Utah we’re particularly susceptible to sun burning in the eye,” said Jeff Pettey, who is an education director at Moran Eye Center.

Pettey said when sun rays bounce off water, sand, or pavement it causes damage to the outer layer of cells in the eye when those reflected rays make contact.

“So you’ll know you have a sun burn of the eye when it feels like someone has poured sand in your eyes, and at the end of the day all you can do is close your eyes and weep like a child,” he said.

Other symptoms include light sensitivity, swelling, tears and blurry vision. To protect your eyes, make sure you put on sunglasses.

“Sunglasses don’t have to be expensive, they don't have to be anything other than 100 percent UV protecting,” Pettey said. “That’s really available in essentially all sunglasses made, however, you just need to make sure that you verify that you have UV protection in your sunglasses.”

Jayne has been wearing sunglasses since she was in her early 20s, and she said sunglasses have done a lot of good for her eyes.

“The doctor told me at the Moran Eye Center very recently that the sunglasses have been very helpful to my eyes because I have healthy eyes,” she said. “That was good news, so as far as I’m concerned, I’m for them.”

If you do end up getting your eyes sunburned, ophthalmologists recommend getting them checked to prevent an infection.

Doctors say excessive sun exposure can lead to cataracts and eye or eyelid cancer.