Improving Your Look

Sunburned Eyes: A Condition To Take Seriously

Like your skin, it's important to protect your eyes from sunburn. Repeated sunburns of the eyes can eventually affect your vision and may even lead to blindness. The problem is you can't feel your eyes getting sunburned and usually don't notice the effects until hours later. But knowing what symptoms to watch for, the potential risks, and what kind of preventive steps to take can help protect your eyes from permanent damage caused by the sun.

What Happens

Prolonged exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun burns the cornea of the eye, which, if severe, can lead to infection and vision problems afterward.


If overexposure to the sun burns the clear, transparent layer at the front of the eye, you may experience symptoms such as the following:

  • Light sensitivity
  • Eye pain or a burning sensation
  • Blurry vision
  • Watery eyes
  • Blood shot eyes
  • Dry, itchy eyes
  • A gritty feeling in the eyes
  • Swelling around the eyes

Potential Complications

In addition to damage involving the cornea, long-term sun exposure can cause damage to the retina and lens of the eye that may eventually lead to the following:

  • Cataracts
  • Macular degeneration
  • Pterygium (benign growth on the cornea of the eye)
  • Eye or eyelid cancer


Unless you experience pain or decreased vision, sunburned eyes usually heal on their own within a couple of days with self-care. But if symptoms persist or are severe, see an eye doctor for evaluation and treatment. Self-care and medical treatment may include:

  • Avoidance of bright light for a few days
  • Lubricating eye drops to relieve the discomfort of dry, irritated eyes and help protect the eyes against infection
  • Anti-inflammatory eye drops to relieve pain
  • Antibiotics to treat infection

Prevention Tips

Thankfully, there are ways you can prevent your eye sunburns. Try the following tips:

  1. Avoid being out in the midday sun when the the rays are strongest.
  2. Wear a wide-brim hat and sunglasses that offer 100 percent UVA and UVB protection. Choose a style with large or wrap-around frames to keep the sun's rays from penetrating your eyes from the top, bottom, and sides.
  3. Wear sunglasses outside even on cloudy days, as more than 70 percent of the sun's rays can still get through when the sky is overcast.
  4. Wear UV-blocking contact lenses to protect your eyes against the sun's rays. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, these lenses give you an added layer of protection along with sunglasses, particularly if you don't wear a wrap-around style.
  5. Avoid staring directly at the sun, as the ultraviolet radiation from the sun can damage the rods and cones in the retina of the eye that allow you to see in dim light and perceive color.
  6. Apply sunscreen to the skin surrounding your eyes. The skin around the eyes is thinner and absorbs more UV rays, making it more prone to damage and an increased risk of skin cancer.
  7. Drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration – a condition that allows your skin and eyes to burn more easily.
  8. See your eye care professional for an annual eye exam. Deterioration caused by the sun's rays can be detected during a routine exam, helping to prevent permanent eye damage later on down the road.

For more information and treatment options, visit an eye clinic in your area, such as Webster Eye Care.