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Can You Get A Sunburn On Your Eyes?

happy little girl going travel 624325 3866The next time you get ready to head to the beach or ski slopes without protective eye gear, take a moment to remember that eyes can get sunburned the same way skin can. This applies to children just as adults!

Severely sunburned eyes are caused by overexposure to UV (ultraviolet) rays, like those emitted by the sun. This condition is known as photokeratitis.

Photokeratitis, or ultraviolet keratitis, is an inflammation of the cornea, which is the clear covering of the front of the eye.

Protecting your eyes from UV rays is the only way to avoid getting them sunburned. Over time, too much sun exposure can cause specific types of eye diseases to occur. These include:


When your eyes get too much exposure to UV light, temporary sunburn or permanent damage can occur in several areas, including:

  • the thin, surface layer of the cornea
  • retina
  • lens
  • conjunctiva

The conjunctiva is a thin, mucus membrane comprised of two sections. One section covers and protects the whites of the eye (bulbar conjunctiva). The other section covers the inner surface of the upper and lower eyelids (palpebral conjunctiva). Either or both sections can become sunburned.

As with skin, eye sunburn can vary in intensity. The longer your exposure to UV rays, the more intense your symptoms are likely to be. The symptoms of photokeratitis can be uncomfortable. They include:

  • gritty feeling, as if you have sand in your eyes
  • eye pain
  • headache
  • twitching sensation in the eyelid
  • tearing
  • swelling
  • redness
  • blurry vision
  • sensitivity to bright light
  • seeing halos
  • constricted, pinpoint pupils (miosis)
  • temporary vision loss or color changes in your vision (these symptoms are rare)


Photokeratitis usually resolves on its own within one to two days. Treatment for this condition typically centers around reducing symptoms so you can feel more comfortable. If you suspect that you have sunburned eyes, your doctor may recommend pain relievers or antibiotic eye drops.