How to Prevent Sunburnt Eyes

Prevent Winter Sunburnt Eyes

How to Prevent Sunburnt Eyes

While the winter season means colder weather and shorter days, the season also brings with it the fun of winter sports and activities. Snowy weather means days spent making snowmen, tobogganing, or hitting the slopes, and it is important that fun does not get in the way of protecting your eye health.

In fact, it is important to continue protecting your eyes from the sun in the winter months, as not only can your skin become sunburnt… so can your eyes! Surprisingly, you are just as likely—if not more likely—to experience sunburnt eyes in winter as you are in the sunny, hot summer months. You can’t use sunscreen on your eyes, however, so how can you protect them from the sun? Learn more about how to identify and prevent sunburnt eyes in today’s blog.

What is Eye Sunburn?

Sunburnt eyes occur when there is sun damage to the front surfaces of the eye, including the cornea, due to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The medical term for this condition is Photokeratitis, but it is often known as “snow blindness.”  While the eyes are exposed to limited amounts of UV radiation regularly, photokeratitis is more likely to affect individuals whose eyes are exposed to high levels of radiation.

Why Do Eyes get Sunburnt in the Winter?

People tend to think that sunburn is a condition that only occurs in the summer, and that they are protected from sunburn during the cold, winter months. However, this is not the case. Exposure to UV rays can occur not only directly from the sun’s rays, but can also be reflected of certain surfaces… including snow.

Snow is a powerful mirror for sunlight, and in fact magnifies the effects of UV rays that would otherwise be absorbed by the ground. Therefore, eyes are not only exposed to the UV rays from the sun, but also those reflected back in the snow, making UV exposure twofold. Sunburnt eyes are most likely to occur during outdoor recreational activities such as skiing, when large amounts of snow are present, but can also occur during mundane activities such as driving or walking outdoors.

How to Prevent Sunburnt Eyes

In order to prevent sunburnt eyes, it is important to protect the eyes as well as the skin around the eyes from UV radiation year-round. Continue to wear sunglasses in the winter, especially when there is snow on the ground. Choose sunglasses that are labelled as UV protective, and that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Wearing a hat or side-shields on your sunglasses can help to prevent sunlight from reaching your eyes through the sides or other gaps in your sunglasses’ protection.

It is especially important to wear sun protection while engaging in winter sports such as skiing or snowboarding. Many brands of ski goggles come with UV protection, similar to sunglasses, and these should be worn when undertaking sporting activities in the snow—even on cloudy days.

Symptoms & Treatment of Sunburnt Eyes

Often, symptoms of sunburnt eyes will occur several hours after UV radiation exposure, and present similar to symptoms of sunburnt skin. Mild to severe eye pain including burning or stinging, blurred vision, light sensitivity, excess tearing, or eye redness may all be present in sunburnt eyes.

If you believe that you might have sunburnt eyes, it is important to visit your optometrist for proper diagnosis and treatment.  Depending on the severity of the burn, treatment could include eye drops, anti-inflammatory medications, or artificial tears for lubrication. You should also stay out of the sun for a few days as you allow your symptoms to die down, and consistent use of sunglasses can reduce symptoms of light sensitivity.

Usually, symptoms of sunburnt eyes will resolve themselves without causing long-term changes or effects on the eye.  However, prolonged or significant exposure to UV rays can have harmful and lasting effects on the ocular structure, so it is important to protect your eyes and your vision! Not only are your eyes at risk of sunburn in winter, but reflected UV Rays can also cause sunburnt skin. Be sure you are staying safe and protecting yourself from the sun this winter, so you can get the most out of the season!

The optometry team at Dr D’Orio Eyecare can assist you with your vision needs. To book an appointment visit or call us at 416 656 2020 for our Toronto location, or 416 661 5555 for North York.

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