Can You Sunburn Your Eyes?

Can You Sunburn Your Eyes

Can you sunburn your eyes?  Yes, you can sunburn you eyes.  The topics I will cover are:

  • Causes
  • Symptoms
  • Treatment
  • Prevention
  • Long-term effects, if there are any

Just as the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays cause familiar changes in our skin (wrinkles, thinner skin, dark spots, dryness, larger pores, and even cancer), those rays can also cause changes in our eyes. UV-damaged eyes can appear dull, cloudy, or even discolored. Studies have proven that prolonged and excessive exposure to the sun can do a lot of damage to our eyes in the long run.


Photokeratitis is a painful eye condition that occurs when your eye is exposed to invisible rays of energy called ultraviolet (UV) rays, either from the sun or from a man-made source.

Photokeratitis is like having a sunburned eye. This condition affects the thin surface layer of the cornea, the clear front window of the eye, and the conjunctiva, which is the cell layer covering the inside of the eyelids and the whites of the eye.

Snow blindness is a form of photokeratitis that is caused by UV rays reflected off ice and snow.  Eye damage from UV rays is particularly common in the North and South Pole areas or in high mountains where the air is thinner and provides less protection from UV rays.


Like a sunburn on your skin, photokeratitis is not usually noticed until well after the damage has occurred. Symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Blurriness
  • Tearing
  • Gritty feeling
  • Swelling
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Headache
  • Seeing halos
  • Small pupils
  • Eyelid twitching
  • Rarely, temporary vision loss


Photokeratitis and snow blindness usually go away on their own, so treatment is focused on making you feel better as your eyes heal.

For relief, you may try:

  • Placing a cold washcloth over your closed eyes
  • Using artificial tears
  • Taking certain pain relievers as recommended by your ophthalmologist
  • Using eye drop antibiotics if your ophthalmologist recommends this

Avoid rubbing your eyes as you heal. Symptoms usually go away gradually in a day or two.


  • Wear shades or eyewear that has built-in UV protection of 99-100%. Wearing glasses without any UV protection might do more harm than good, as these lenses allow more UV rays to get into our eyes and do harm.
  • If you are wearing contact lenses, there are now newer contact lenses with built-in UV protection. Consult you contact lens provider for more information about these products.
  • Wear a hat or cap with a wide brim.
  • Wear sunglasses even on cloudy days, since the UV rays of the sun can still penetrate through the clouds.
  • Avoid sun exposure during 10am-2pm, where the sun’s UV rays are at their strongest.
  • Get regular eye exams. Eye deterioration from the sun can easily be spotted during a routine exam. If caught in time, future eye damage can be prevented.

Can You Sunburn Your Eyes

Long Term Effects

Two main types of acute eye damage include pterygium, a pinkish growth on the white of the eye, also known as “surfer’s eye”; and pinguecula, little yellowish bumps or raised areas on the eye’s surface. Both are attributed to excessive amounts of UV rays. Most of the time the growths can be cured with drops, but in other cases may have to be surgically removed.

More frequently, though, UV damage to the eyes is small and cumulative.  Just as sun damage shows up on your skin over time, wrinkles and age spots, the same could happen to your eyes.

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, plus, tissues in the eye are susceptible to melanomas just like the skin.

In Conclusion

Based on the research I conducted, there is no question that you can sunburn your eyes.  I have personally experienced sunburned eyes, in my case it was one eye, my right eye, and it developed after a long surf session.  The discomfort I experienced was unpleasant to say the least but fortunately, the symptoms disappeared in 24 hours.

If you’re a surfer or someone involved in a physically demanding water sports click here to read my review on the Kurtis Makaha surf goggles.

Thanks for dropping in and I hope you found this post helpful.  Should you have any questions of comment, please post-it in the comment section of this page.

12 thoughts on “Can You Sunburn Your Eyes?

  1. Wow, I didn’t know you could sunburn your eyes and I live in Florida where it’s always sunny thank you for the good information. You’ve helped a lot.

    • Hi Tyler, yes, you can and take it from me, it’s not a pleasant experience.

      Thanks for the comment and dropping in!

  2. Well, this has certainly been an “Eye Opener”!
    Thanks for all the symptoms and causes of sunburned eyes.

    I had an idea that you could do damage but never knew the facts behind it.


  3. This is a really good point and one that I have forgotten may times. Usually we remember to protect our skin and forget about eyes.
    Thanks for the informative post!

    • Hi Sarah, You can say that again, I almost never wear sunglasses.

      Thanks for the comments and dropping in!

  4. This post would be very helpful for people who stay out in sun in the areas were people are largely affected by the UV rays, luckily I have never seen someone getting troubled by Photokeratitis, but this post has definitely taught a lot to me that may come to use in future. Good Job again Stuart!

  5. Hey Stuart

    Thanks for keeping it real man!

    I wanted to offer an example that you briefly touched on when you mentioned ‘man-made’.

    Arc eyes from welding is exactly what you are referring to when you mention an excessive amount of UV light causing sunburn to your eyes.

    I have been out of action for 2 weeks before due to sun burned eyes… I wanted to pull my eyeballs out of their sockets… And all that helped (to an extent), like you mentioned was a super DARK room and cold damp cloth on my eyes.

    Arc eyes is an extreme case, but the long term effects of UV rays are not something that surfers should take lightly… It does eventually catch up with you and it is simple to prevent.

    Thanks for a great post. Keep on sharing Stuart!


    Marc Parsons

    • Hi Marc,

      Great story and good points! I’ve have had sunburned eyes on at least 6 occasions, fortunately, it lasted for only 24 hours. I can’t imagine 2 weeks.

      Thanks for the comments and dropping in!

  6. I’ve learnt some new things from this article. I knew you could damage your eyes from too much sun exposure, but didn’t know it could be sunburned. I didn’t know there was such thing as snow blindness. I always do my best to get quality protective sunglass, as your eyes are so important to take care of. This has been very interesting to read. Thank you for sharing this useful information.

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