Get insights on how to get rid of sunburned eyes fast, treatment and best home remedies. Symptoms and how long does it last.

Sunburned Eyes

Eyes usually get sunburned as a result of prolonged exposure to the ultraviolet rays from the sun. As a result, you may experience burning sensation and blurred vision. The ultraviolet rays that cause this kind of damage does not only come directly from the sun, but also from the reflection of sun rays from water and sand.  This condition of severely sunburned eyes is commonly known as photo – keratitis.
Dr. Michelle Calder-Cardwell, the owner and the lead optometrist at Urban Optiques Vision and Eyewear in Northville, MI. advises that it is very important to cover your eyes with sunglasses especially in summer heat. Most people will strive to protect the skin from sun rays and glare by applying sunscreen. What most people don’t realize is that, just like the skin, the eyes are also vulnerable to becoming sunburned
The sun can damage to the unprotected skin and am sure you are aware of this. Ultraviolet rays from the sun are known to cause sunburn that actually changes DNA and puts you at risk for skin cancer. Sunburned eyes medically referred to as photo-keratitis is a result of exposure to strong UV rays.
Jeff Pettey M.D, director of the John A. Moran eye center residency and Training program and chief of ophthalmology at the salt Lake VA medical center says that the exposure has to be for an hour without wearing protection.

Can eyes get sunburned?

The sclera, most often referred to as the white of eyes, is more vulnerable to sunburn most often in summer. Long hour exposure to the sun exposes the unprotected eyes, most specifically the whites of eyes to the dangerous Ultraviolet rays.
You can burn your eyeballs, more accurately your corneas if you spent long hours in the sun without eye protection. Anderson Cooper, the CNN host of the Anderson Cooper 360, say he had spent two hours on a boat in Portugal without sunglasses and ended up blind for 36 hours.
Photo-keratitis is, therefore, a burn of the cornea, the clear front surface of the eye by ultraviolet B rays. The condition is also referred to as radiation keratitis. This condition will often occur at high altitudes on highly reflective snow fields. Sunburn can also occur with artificial sources of light, this will include the following:

  • Sun-tanning beds
  • A welder’s arc
  • Flash burn
  • Carbon arcs
  • Photographic flood lamps
  • Lightening
  • Electric sparks
  • Hydrogen desk lamps

Symptoms of sunburned eyes

The symptoms to this problem are temporary and most resolve on their own within very few days. The duration of the symptoms often differ from person to person depending on how long one was exposed to the sun rays. If the symptoms last for more than 3 days take it a priority to go and see your doctor for treatment. It is common that this problem usually occur with the following symptoms.

  1. Glared and halos around lights

Light is very paramount when it comes to someone’s sight. Light has to bounce off the objects to let the image to be formed in the eye. However, light can be the source of a visual problem sometimes. Halos are bright circles that surround a light source like headlight whereas glare is the light that enters your eyes and interferes with vision. This can be very uncomfortable especially when trying to capture an object in too much bright light. Glares can affect the vision, as the scattered light inside the eye often make it hard for you to see a sharp image.

  1. Eye pain 

Direct exposure to ultraviolet rays can also signal a serious eye condition such as eye pain. Other condition that could cause the pain includes ocular rosacea, dry eyes, and blepharitis, which some of them has an origin from sunburned eyes.

  1. Burning sensation 

This is a common symptom of inflammation inside the eye. Just as the skin, long time exposure to sunlight could cause such symptom on the eye. When your eyes are severely burned by sunrays, you may experience a burning feeling in them.

  1. Severe headaches or head pain

Sometimes when your eyes have been burned by the sun, you may experience head pain that can’t be explained. Some common symptoms will include throbbing, squeezing, constant, unrelenting or intermittent. The location may be in one part of the face or skull or generally involving the whole head.
A headache caused by the sunburn may arise spontaneously or sometimes associated with exercise or activity. A headache may also be acute onset or chronic in nature with episodes of increasing severity.

  1. Sensitivity to light 

Also known as photophobia, this is an intolerance of light. With this kind of symptom, you are more likely to feel discomfort to a different source of light such as sunlight, fluorescent light, and incandescent light. Apart from the discomfort, you also need to squint or close your eyes. These problems are usually accompanied by severe headaches.

  1. Temporary loss of vision

This is considered sudden if it develops within a few minutes to a couple of days. A temporary vision loss from sunburned eyes may affect one or both eyes and it can also affect all or part of the field of vision. When the loss is of only a small field of vision it usually appear like blurred vision. For temporary loss, you are also most likely to develop eye pain, in this case of the sunburn.

  1. Blurred vision 

It refers to the lack of sharpness of vision. It results from the inability of your eyes to see finer objects. Apart from sunburn, a blurred vision may be an early sign of the presence of eye disease. It may also result from abnormalities such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, presbyopia or astigmatism.
Other symptoms include:

  • A gritty feeling
  • Red eyes
  • Swollen eyes
  • Eyelid twitching
  • Constricted pupils
  • Temporary color changes in vision

It will take some time before your eyes recover completely from the above mentioned symptoms. If the symptoms last longer, see your eye doctor immediately.

Sunburned Eyes Treatment

When left untreated for long, an infected eye could result to permanent sight damage. An infection after sunburn could cause the cornea to scar over and become opaque. A scar on the line of vision could affect your sight forever. If you can avoid or treat the infection in time, the good news is that the sunburned eyes go away on its own within a day or two. The bad news is that excessive exposure to the sun can lead to cataracts and eye or eyelid cancer.
To treat sunburned eyes, you will need to first have a doctor diagnose the problem by asking about your recent activities, examining your eyes or by using an eye drop with fluorescein dye to look for UV damage. The treatment option is often recommended by your Ophthalmologist depending on the severity of the symptoms.  The following can be used to treat sunburned eyes.

  1. Keep eyes moisten with artificial tears

Artificial tears are one of the best treatments for dry eyes. Depending on its cause and severity, it may not be completely curable. Keep your eyes moisten with artificial tears to manage some of the symptoms of sunburned eyes. Artificial tears may thus result in noticeably greater comfort, fewer dry eyes symptoms, and sometimes sharper vision as well.

  1. Using antibiotic eye drops

Mild cases of this condition can be managed with numbing and antibiotic eye-drops. It takes only a couple of days to control it with this eye drop. Our bodies are very regenerative, with regenerative powers in both the top layer of the skin and the cornea. With time your body is able to replace the skin and cornea cells.

  1. Pain relievers

Pain killer drugs acquired over the counter may also offer relief for the pain caused by sunburn to the eyes. If the pain, however, becomes more severe or persist for more than 2 days, have a doctor to check the condition to find out what could be the issue.

  1. Cold compress

Using ice cubes to apply a cold compress around the eye will also help relieve the pain, swelling, pain and irritation. In itself, a cold compress is a combination of cryotherapy and static compression, the remedy is mostly used for treating pain and inflammation after an acute injury or surgical procedures. It can as well be used to relieve the symptoms of sunburned eyes.

  1. Lubricating eye drops

There are many brands of ocular lubricant available in drug stores. An ocular lubricant is a solution specially formulated to moisten the eyes. The solution can be used to relieve symptoms such as burning sensation and other discomfort caused by dry eyes.

  1. Anti-inflammatory eye drop

With sunburned eyes, you could seek relief of symptoms such as inflammation and swelling by using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory eye drop. Have the eye drop prescribed to you by a professional health care provider.

  1. Boost your balanced diet

A recent Research from the National Institutes of Health and National Eye Institute has shown the power of certain nutrients in protecting eyes age-related and other causes of eye damage including sunburn. Natural antioxidants found in dark, leafy greens vegetables like kales, and spinach and those from eggs are most recommended.

  1. Try some recommended nutritional supplements

If you are unable to access the nutrients in their natural form, you can use supplements.

How to Get Rid of Sunburned Eyes

You could avoid all this pain by simply protecting your eyes from direct and long-term exposure to Ultraviolet rays. To do this, you will need to:

  • Avoid long hour exposure to direct sun rays, you could do this by wearing hat
  • During long exposure to the sun, make sure you wear UV light blocking sunglasses. Eye experts at the University of Huston greatly stress the importance of wearing protective eyewear even on cloudy days. A good lesson is that off Anderson Copper which clearly shows that eyes can be damaged even when the sun hides behind the cloud.
  • When having a sunburned eye and you wear contact lenses, you should remove them immediately, refrain from wearing them again until your eyes return to normal.
  • Not all sunglasses protect against UV light. Be sure to wear the right sunglasses. Dr. Natasha Hertz, an ophthalmologist at Washington Adventist Hospital recommends wearing sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection.
  • You also need to avoid regular exposure to direct sun rays. Regularly exposing your eyes to sun rays will have long-term effects including cataracts, skin and eye cancer, macular degeneration, benign eye growth and others.
  • For maximum protection, you need to look for sunglasses, snow goggles or sports goggle that have side shields or a soft rubber flange that completely block sunlight from striking the front of your eyes from the sides, below or above the eye.
  • When going out skiing, snowboarding, water sporting or anytime you plan to be outdoors for an extended period of time, make sure to not only wear quality sunglasses but also that feature a wrap-style frame to protect your eyes from indirect as well as direct sunlight.
  • To prevent photo-keratitis from artificial light such as welding light, make sure to use quality welding helmets.
  • When unsure of how safe your sunglasses are in terms of blocking the UV rays, have them checked out by a professional eye care practitioner.

Have healthy diet
Recent research from the National Institutes of Health and National Eye Institute has shown the power of certain nutrients to protect eyes from age-related and other damage. Nutritionist Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN recommends two antioxidants in particular, lutein and zeaxanthin, found in dark, leafy greens like kale and spinach as well as in eggs. Other vitamins to focus on include vitamin C (found in citrus, berries, tomatoes and broccoli), vitamin E (nuts, wheat germ and legumes), zinc (beef, shellfish, nuts, seeds and legumes), omega 3 fatty acids and beta carotene.
Try a supplement
If, like most people, you have trouble reaching your recommended nutrient levels just by eating, there are also a handful of eye-specific supplements on the market, such as Bausch & Lomb’s Ocuvite, that include lutein and zeaxanthin. It’s a good idea to get your doctor or nutritionist’s advice when adding a regular supplement to your diet, Gans says.
Get regular eye exams
Sunburned eyes can easily be spotted during a routine exam, but most people only go every four to five years instead of the recommended one to two, Pier says. If caught in time, future eye damage can be prevented. “A yearly eye exam that checks the inside of the eye for abnormalities, checks vision and checks binocularity — both eyes working well together — is probably well worth your while every year,” he said.
Just like with your skin, the UV rays do have a long-term effect on your eyes.  Sunlight can cause a slow deterioration of the cells in your eyes that could lead to eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Therefore it is best to limit you exposure to both direct and reflected UV rays.

How long do Sunburned Eyes Last

As compared to the skin, ultraviolet rays do not have a long-term effect on your eyes. Sunburned eyes do not last for long. Although sunlight can cause a slow deterioration of the cells in your eyes, this can as well result to eye infection and diseases. Some of the well-known conditions include age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. This is way most doctors and professional health care provider advice on reducing the amount of time you stay to both direct and reflected ultraviolet rays.
To prevent from such condition, you will need to protect your eyes against rays. The best way to do so is by:

  • Wearing sunglass that protects a higher percentage of UV rays.
  • Some people prefer to wear a hat when out in direct sunlight.
  • Since you skin is also at risk of sunburn, you could protect it by applying a sunscreen.

Note: Not all sunglass protect against UV rays, have a specialist to find you the ones that do. Always make sure to wear them anytime you are outdoors. Wear the glass even on the cloudy day, this is because the rays can easily penetrate the clouds and cause damage to your skin and eyes.
How long does the effect last?
The effects caused by sunburned eyes are temporary. As mentioned, though the condition is accompanied by severe pain, it does not result in blindness. Much like the sunburn on your skin, the cornea of the eyes is very similar to the top skin layer this is according to a New York dermatologist Deborah Sarnoff.
How fast can healing take place?
For healthy people, the cornea takes a very short time to get back into its normal condition. A big number of people will recover from the symptoms in two to three days. Protecting your eyes from UV light by use of blocking sunglasses is the best way to avoid this kind of pains and also lower your long-term risk of developing cataracts and skin cancer on your eyelids.

Sunburned Eyes Swollen

To some people, sunburn to eyes can even result to swelling of the eyelids. To be on the safe side, have blue eyes and red hair. The person may experience excruciating pain when he develops eyes burned by the sunrays. It may hurt the eyes, lips, chin and the cheeks as well. The face becomes swollen and red. Numerously, sunburn on face is first degree burns, meaning superficial burns. But in some cases they can be second degree with tiny blister formation.
Although very painful, sunburn on face eventually heals as the skin renews itself within 2 to 4 days. This is true when it is first degree burn. For second degree burns the time interval is more depending on its severity. Some remedies can help to reduce a swollen face as a result of sunburn. However, in any case do not expose your face to sunlight once the area has become damaged.
More references

  1. Damage of sun on eyes: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/ask-a-health-expert/how-much-damage-does-sunburn-on-the-eyes-cause/article13241831/
  2. Sunburned eyes: http://discoveryeye.org/sunburned-eyes/