Photokeratitis – What You Should Know About Sunburn of the Eyes

vision benefits in Oklahoma
August 10, 2021
James Ashford

Under our bright, sunny Oklahoma skies, photokeratitis can be a serious issue. It is a sunburn-like condition of the eyes caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays. It commonly results from overexposing eyes to the sun and causes damage to the cornea rather than the skin. The melanin in your eyes, like that in your skin, can prevent the problem to some extent. However, melanin is only found in the iris, leaving the rest of your eye vulnerable to UV rays. Vision benefits in Oklahoma can help with treatment, but prevention is always better. Let’s look deeper into this.

How can you get photokeratitis?

Generally, activities that take place outdoors in bright sunshine and others with high exposure to UV rays feature the greatest risks of photokeratitis. Some of these activities include:

  • Mountain biking and hiking: There are higher UV levels at higher altitudes.
  • Skiing: UV is reflected off snow.
  • Swimming: UV is reflected off water.
  • Using a sunlamp, tanning bed or other source of UV light.
  • Working with a mercury vapor or halogen lamp.
  • Working around UV light.
  • Watching a full or partial solar eclipse without protection.

If you do these activities frequently, you should consider taking some of the preventative measures we outline later in the article.

What does photokeratitis feel like?

Photokeratitis has a lot of different symptoms. Specifically, you may have:

  • Redness in the eyes.
  • Tearing.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Pain or swelling of the eyes.
  • Unusual light sensitivity.
  • A gritty sensation under your eyelids.
  • Temporary loss of or decrease in vision.
  • Auras around objects.
  • Headaches.

Most of the symptoms go away within a few days, but they can be irritating, painful and even disabling while they last. Most of the time, the greater exposure to the UV rays, the longer the effects will stick. You may also get sunburned on the sensitive skin around your eyes, such as your eyelids, which will add to your discomfort.

If symptoms don’t go away in 48 hours, use your vision benefits in Oklahoma or elsewhere to seek treatment.

How can you treat photokeratitis?

If you start to feel the symptoms of photokeratitis, get out of the sun (or away from any other source of UV rays) as soon as you can. Take out your contact lenses, darken your room and do not rub your eyes. The eye tissue will usually heal itself, but there are things you can do to help while you wait to heal.

Artificial tear drops and cold compresses over the eyes can help you feel better. An over-the-counter oral NSAID pain reliever like ibuprofen can also help ease your discomfort.

What are the complications?

Although photokeratitis usually heals quickly and isn’t serious, frequent extended exposure to UV can lead to bigger long-term problems. These include an increased risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. A cataract is the gradual clouding of the clear lens of the eye.

Macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of vision loss, results from the deterioration of the central part of the retina, which sends what we see from the eye to the brain. The center part of the retina, called the macula, focuses vision in the center of the eye. In other words, it lets us read, drive, recognize people and colors, and see fine detail. Unfortunately, once you have signs of macular degeneration, the effects are not typically reversible and can lead to long-term vision loss.

How can you avoid photokeratitis?

You can avoid photokeratitis in several ways, mostly by limiting your exposure to UV rays in one way or another. Some of the more common suggestions are:

  • Wear UV-blocking sunglasses or goggles. For outdoor use, they should block at least 99% of UV rays.
  • If you wear contacts but are frequently exposed to UV rays, always wear sunglasses that protect your eyes from the damaging effects of the sun.
  • Wear hats with brims that will help protect your eyes when you are outdoors.
  • Wear appropriate protective eyewear if you work around UV rays.
  • Take advantage of your annual eye exam using your benefits in Oklahoma to be sure your eyes are healthy and do not have signs of damage due to UV exposure.

In other words, the best way to avoid photokeratitis is to protect your eyes from UV exposure.

Vision Benefits in Oklahoma and nationwide can support you

For comprehensive vision care plans in Oklahoma and other states, Vision Care Direct is here to help. Our flexible plans offer negotiated savings to enable you to get the highest quality care and make sure nothing stands between you and your eye doctor. To learn more about how we can help you take care of your eye health, reach out to us today.

Not sure where to get started with recommending self-funded plans? Vision Care Direct of Oklahoma is pre-paid plan provider with and extensive of specialists who deliver eye care in Tulsa and nationwide with excellent value for employers and plan recipients.

Find out more about our self-funded plans and other flexible options.


Learn about benefits of LASIK for Vision Care Direct of Oklahoma members.

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