“Yes, you can get a ‘sunburn’ on your eyes,” explains Dr. Vivienne Velasco of iFocus Vision Center. “It’s a condition known as Photokeratitis and it’s extremely painful.”
Ever since we were kids, we’ve been instructed to put on sunscreen when we head outdoors. But just because the arms, legs, neck, and face get the most attention doesn’t mean other parts of your body can’t get sunburned.
Photokeratitis occurs when your eyes have been exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun or an artificial source. Like a bad sunburn, Photokeratitis can cause your eyes to hurt, turn red, and feel gritty or irritated. Other symptoms include headache, blurriness, and sometimes a temporary loss of vision. Prolonged exposure to UV light can even lead to cataracts, macular degeneration, and other sight-stealing conditions. To protect yourself, Dr. Velasco explains, you need to take cautionary measures before leaving the house.
Know When UV Is Strongest
UV rays are strongest during the spring and summer months, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Knowing when you’re most likely to face the worst UV exposure should help you plan accordingly.
Also, don’t assume that if you’re not looking directly into the sun, you’re not at risk of Photokeratitis. The sun’s reflection on pavement, water, and sand — or ice and snow in the winter — can also create a glare that directs UV rays into your eyes.
Wear Big Sunglasses
Because the UV risks are highest during the months when Dr. Velasco’s Las Vegas patients are most likely to be outdoors, she recommends sunglasses with wide lenses that cover more of your face, or wraparound the eyes.
“The more coverage, the better,” Dr. Velasco says. “You can’t put sunblock on your eyes, but you can block the sun from your eyes.”
When choosing sunglasses, always ask if they provide 100 percent UV protection, and don’t assume that a darker lens will do the trick. If you have a reliable pair but are unsure if they offer 100 percent protection, you can contact iFocus Vision Center and ask Dr. Velasco or a member of her staff to inspect your sunglasses and determine how much coverage they provide your eyes.
Cover Up with a Wide Brimmed Hat
“Any steps you can take to keep sunlight off your face, take them,” Dr. Velasco says. “A wide-brimmed hat with sunglasses and sunscreen will ensure that UV won’t ruin your outing.”
She adds that even if clouds start to cover the sun, that’s no excuse to take off your hat and sunglasses. A thin cloud cover does little to block UV rays, so don’t take any chances.
Choose the Right Swim Goggles, and Keep Them On
If you’re hitting the water, look for a pair of swim goggles that offer 100 percent protection from UV rays, and always keep them on.
“It is not safe to keep your eyes open in the pool,” Dr. Velasco says. “The chemicals that they put in the pool are very irritating to the eyes.
“If you happen to get pool water in your eyes and it causes irritation, it is best to rinse your eyes out with sterile saline solution.”
If you’ve spent too much time in the sun and are worried about your vision, contact Dr. Velasco at 702-473-5660 or book an appointment online via the iFocus Vision Center website.