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What Is Photokeratitis?

What Is Photokeratitis?

This painful eye condition tends to occur more often during the winter months.

A nasty sunburn is never any fun, but the sun’s harmful rays don’t only affect your skin. They can also inflict significant damage to your eyes, a condition known as photokeratitis.

Photokeratitis: An Overview
Photokeratitis is a painful condition that people commonly refer to as a sunburn to your eyes. Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, a powerful form of electromagnetic radiation, can damage your corneas (the fronts of your eyes) and your conjunctivas (protective membrane around your eyes and the insides of your eyelids). When this happens, your eyes experience temporary irritation similar to what your skin goes through after a sunburn.

Causes
Photokeratitis occurs when your eyes are exposed to too much ultraviolet light. The majority of ultraviolet light originates from the sun, but there are artificial sources of UV rays, as well. These include tanning beds, tanning lamps, and arc welding. Reflected UV light also poses a threat, especially off of surfaces such as sand, ice, water, and snow.

Snow Blindness
Snow blindness is one of the most common forms of photokeratitis. This particular condition occurs when UV light reflects off wintry surfaces like snow and ice. Because snow is white, it can reflect nearly all of the sun’s UV energy, making its glare almost as harmful as the sun itself. People are at the greatest risk of experiencing snow blindness when driving in wintry environments, skiing, snowboarding, mountain climbing, and performing other similar activities.

Symptoms
The main symptoms of photokeratitis are similar to those of sunburn, such as pain, redness, and swelling around the eyes. Vision-related symptoms include:

  • Blurriness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Tearing/watering
  • Seeing halos
  • Eyelid twitching
  • Gritty sensation
  • Headaches

Rarely, temporary vision loss and difficulty seeing colors can occur, as well.

Treatments
Photokeratitis normally goes away within a couple days, but there are measures you can take to reduce discomfort and speed up the healing process. As soon as symptoms arise, get away from the source of UV light and stay in a dark room. Make sure to remove your contact lenses if you wear them. For pain relief, take the following measures:

  • Place a cold washcloth over your closed eyes
  • Use artificial tears for additional moisture
  • Take over-the-counter pain medicine

In severe cases, you may require prescription eye drops to prevent an infection.

Although quite common, photokeratitis can be prevented if you protect your eyes from UV light by wearing sunglasses, snow goggles, and other protective eyewear. See an eye doctor ASAP if you ever experience extended symptoms of photokeratitis. Sterling Vision consists of experienced optometrists, ophthalmologists, and other specialists capable of delivering effective treatments for a variety of eye conditions. To schedule an appointment with us, call 541-262-0597 or schedule online.