Can you get a sunburn on your eyes?

Your skin isn’t the only part of you that needs to be protected from UV rays. Read on to find out what happens if you sunburn your eyes

Can you get a sunburn on your eyes?

Source: Best Health magazine, March/April 2013: Image credit: David Gabber/PR Photos

While on assignment in Portugal, CNN’s Anderson Cooper (pictured) says he suffered an eye sunburn.

He described the experience on a December 2012 episode of his talk show, Anderson Live. ‘I wake up in the middle of the night and it feels like my eyes are on fire’my eyeballs!’and I think, oh, maybe I have sand in my eyes or something. Anyway, it turns out I have sunburned my eyeballs.

Yes, it can happen’and at any time of year. According to Dr. Cheryl Zimmer with the Canadian Association of Optometrists, ‘The front clear surface of the eye, called the cornea, is composed of epithelial tissue similar to the skin. It’s very susceptible to the elements‘wind and sun, in particular.’

Extensive UV exposure can even come from skiing without protective eyewear, says Zimmer. ‘The resulting condition, known as keratitis, can cause blurry vision and very sore eyes.’ It can take 24 to 72 hours for the eyes to heal. ‘During that time vision may be reduced, but it’s unlikely to cause full blindness,’ she says.

While an eye sunburn can be treated with drops and rest, prolonged exposure to UV light can contribute to a number of different health conditions, including macular degeneration and cataracts, says Zimmer. ‘Plus, tissues in the eye are susceptible to melanomas just like the skin.’

Squinting may protect your eyes, but it can lead to headaches and eye strain, so the best protection is a pair of sunglasses, says Zimmer. She suggests a pair that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. According to Health Canada’s website, manufacturers follow voluntary industry standards when labelling sunglasses. Those labelled ‘General purpose’ block 60 to 92 percent of visible light and UVA rays, and between 95 and 99 percent of UVB rays.

This article was originally titled "Can your eyes get sunburned" in the March/April 2013 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!