While waiting for your eyes to recover you might want to:
Stay indoors and wear sunglasses to help with your increased light sensitivity.
Keep your eyes moist with preservative-free artificial tears.
Use OTC pain relievers to help with the pain and follow the recommended dosage.
DO NOT rub your eyes.
If you wear contact lenses, remove them immediately and stop wearing them until your eyes have returned to normal. You may find that placing a cool, damp cloth over your closed eyes is soothing.
When to be careful
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your eyes are protected by blinking, or from not staring directly into the sun. UV rays can be intense in several different environments.
Sun can reflect off of water and sand, causing UV exposure. This can occur in the following locations:
anywhere the sun meets water
In the city
If you’re stuck in the city, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can go without the right gear.
Sunlight can also reflect off of buildings, cars, and concrete streets. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a bright sunny day or a hazy one. UV rays can affect your eyes and skin through cloud cover.
On the mountain
Sunlight can also reflect off of ice and snow. If you participate in sports such as mountain climbing, snowboarding, or skiing, you’re at risk for photokeratitis if you don’t protect your eyes. This type of photokeratitis is known as snow blindness.
In some instances, snow blindness can cause the corneal surface to freeze or become very dry. This condition is common in the North and South Poles, but can also happen at higher altitudes where the air is thin. Thinner air provides less protection from UV rays, making you more vulnerable than you may realize.
Artificial UV light
Other artificial sources of UV light include: arc welding machines and reptile basking bulbs — a type of UVB bulb used in pet stores and reptile enclosures.
You might think that tanning beds are safe for your eyes, since they emit UVA instead of UVB rays, but this is not accurate. Tanning beds produce up to 100 times the amount of UV rays that the sun does, and can be very dangerous for eyes. If you use tanning beds, it is imperative that you protect your eyes during use.
How to protect your eyes
Not all sunglasses are created equal. To ensure that your eyes get the protection they need, make sure your eyeglasses block or absorb 99 to 100 percent of UV rays. Wearing a brimmed hat can also help shield your eyes from sun exposure. When you’re skiing or enjoying other snow sports, wear sunglasses or goggles that provide this same level of protection. Wearing a helmet can also help.
Never use a tanning bed without wearing protective eye gear. Also try to keep your eyes closed as much as possible.
If you use welding equipment or similar types of machinery, wear a welding helmet designed to protect your eyes and face.
When to see a doctor
If the symptoms of sunburned eyes continue to plague you for more than a day or two, see your doctor. A specialist, such as an ophthalmologist or optometrist, can prescribe medication, if needed.
Remember, the longer your exposure to UV rays, the more likely you are to experience serious eye conditions over time, such as cataracts, or macular degeneration. If you have problems with your vision, see your doctor.
You should also see a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
blurred, fuzzy, dim, or distorted vision
shadowy areas in the middle field of vision
sensitivity to glare or light
problems with night vision
Eyelids are a particularly vulnerable area of the body. They can get skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or malignant melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma in this area can also spread to the eye itself.
See a dermatologist if you notice any of these symptoms on your eyelid:
a discolored eyelid growth that appears red, black, or brown
breaks in the skin that do not go away, or changes in skin texture
swelling or thickening of skin
The bottom line
Just like skin, your eyes are vulnerable to getting sunburned from too much exposure to UV rays. This condition, called photokeratitis, usually goes away on its own within a few days. In the short term, UV ray exposure and eye sunburn can cause uncomfortable symptoms.
In the long term, serious conditions, such as cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and eyelid cancer may result. It’s important to protect your eyes from the sun, and to take special care when you’re in high altitudes where air is thin, and UV rays are strong.