By now, we’re a pretty sun-savvy bunch.
We know we need to avoid slathering ourselves in tanning oil and that we shouldn’t lie outdoors for hours on end in an attempt to bronze up.
We’re also aware of the dangers of tanning beds, and we’ve probably all heard about the need to ‘slip, slop, slap’ far too many times to count.
But what about the effects of the sun on our eyes? Did you know that your eyes can get sunburnt?
Actress Busy Philipps certainly didn’t.
She took to Instagram recently to say she spent a night in hospital after not being able to sleep “because it felt like there were shards of glass in both my eyes”.
She went to explain that she had photokeratitis from bright lights/sun exposure.
“WHO EVEN KNEW THAT WAS A THING?” she wrote.
Unfortunately for her, getting sunburnt eyes is a thing.
And it’s a quite common one at that, says eye specialist Professor Rasik Vajpayee, who says he sees “lots of cases” of this.
He explains there are two types of sun damage that can affect the eyes – one is slow and cumulative, while the other is immediate.
The immediate type is called photokeratitis and it happens when your eyes are exposed to UV rays from the sun, or from man-made sources (such as welding).
Symptoms of photokeratitis can include having sore, red, swollen eyes that may be teary or feel gritty. You may also have reduced vision or blurriness.
As Busy discovered herself, that pain is “severe,” says Professor Vajpayee.
There are three types of UV light – type A, B and C – and Professor Vajpayee says that all of them can cause damage to the eye.
While photokeratitis is an immediate form of sun damage to your eyes, Dr Vajpayee says you can also get slow, cumulative damage that can then cause cancer of the surface of the eye, cataracts, pterygium (a fleshy overgrowth that starts in the corner of the eye) and macular degeneration.
If you think you may have photokeratitis, Dr Vajpayee urges you to see an optometrist or eye doctor immediately.
He says treatment includes resting the eye, using ointment and drops. Painkillers and cold wash cloths placed over the eyes may help with pain.
Your healthcare provider will also give you antibiotic drops to stop your eye from developing an infection from where its surface layer has been damaged.
Thankfully, because the condition only causes damage to the surface of the eye, Professor Vajpayee reassures it’s completely reversible and usually takes about 2-3 days for you to make a full recovery.
While that’s great news if you’re suffering from sunburned eyes, you’re better off trying to prevent photokeratitis in the first place.
And all it takes is one simple step: That is, wearing proper sunglasses, says Professor Vajpayee.
By ‘proper’, he means ones that can block out all types of UV rays.
When it comes to avoiding damage to your eyes, his message is simple: “My bottom line is – especially for people who spend a lot of time outdoors – please always remember to wear your sunnies…”
And who wouldn’t rather splash out on a pair of sunnies than spend time, like Busy Philipps, feeling as though you have shards of glass in your eyes…
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