Protecting Your Eyes From Sunburn: Photokeratitis And Its Effects

Photokeratitis isn't exactly a term that has found usage in common parlance. However, it is a terrible affliction that can befall practically anyone. Those who are not careful may find themselves victim to this terrible eye malady. In this brief, informative article, you'll learn a bit about photokeratitis, specifically: how to adequately define photokeratitis, what the symptoms of photokeratitis are, what long-term damage is generally associated with photokeratitis, and how to prevent it.

What Is Photokeratitis?

Although photokeratitis sounds a bit funny, there is absolutely nothing humorous about the condition itself. It is an affliction of the eyes, specifically one that affects the cornea. To put it simply, photokeratitis is essentially sunburn of the eyes. Like your skin, by exposing your eyes to the sun's UV rays, you run the risk of burning them. There are a number of specific causes: direct contact with the sun's UV rays, exposure to UV rays through a highly reflective surface (such as snow, thus a common term associated with photokeratitis – snowblindness), or exposure to other bright, hot light, such as the light emitted from welding rods. Although generally treatable, there is a litany of possible visual problems that can arise if left untreated.  

What Are The Symptoms?

There is a long list of symptoms usually associated with photokeratitis, most of which are also associated with a common sunburn.

  • temporary loss of vision (a rare symptom)
  • dilated pupils
  • seeing halos
  • sensitivity to bright light
  • headaches
  • a gritty feeling in the eyes
  • swelling of the eyes and area around the eyes
  • blurred vision
  • tearing
  • redness around the eyes
  • a general feeling of pain, of which is said to be quite similar to that of a common sunburn, although located on the eye and area surrounding it

and although rare, you may be witness to "color-switching" (for example, colors that were once will now appear blue, etc.). The longer you are exposed to the sun's damaging UV rays, the more intense your symptoms will be.  

What Long-Term Damage Is Associated With Photokeratitis

Although, as previously mentioned, long-term damage is rare when it comes to photokeratitis, it is entirely within the realm of possibility. Photokeratitis may permanently affect your retina, causing it to detach, which can cause some serious issues with your vision, including double vision and, potentially, a loss of sight. In addition, prolonged photokeratitis has been proven to be a cause of cataracts, which can greatly damage your sight and, if left untreated, can also cause permanent vision loss.

How Do I Prevent It?

Although it is a damaging phenomenon, photokeratitis can, in most cases, be avoided. Perhaps the easiest way to avoid photokeratitis is to avoid situations where you will be exposed to the sun's UV rays for prolonged periods of time. This is not always possible, so there are certain preventative measures that you can take to greatly weaken the effects or potentiality of photokeratitis.

If you are going to be in a situation where you will be exposed to the sun's UV rays for some time, it is highly recommended that you wear sunglasses. Particularly, you should wear sunglasses that are known for their ability to reduce the amount of UV rays that can reach your eyes. If you are experiencing the symptoms of photokeratitis, call your ophthalmologist. They will be able to assess the extent of the damage and determine whether or not they need to treat your photokeratitis to keep it from damaged your eyes.

As you can see, photokeratitis, although not a commonly known condition, is one that can easily befall those who are not careful. By taking precautions, and getting regular checkups at places like, you can save yourself a lot of headache – and save your eye's health – before it's too late.