Can You Get Sunburned Eyes?

You know to slather on lots of sunblock before going out in the sun, and to keep applying it throughout the day. What about your eyes? Do you always wear a brimmed hat and sunglasses? Even on cloudy days? Can your eyes get sunburned?

The short answer is yes, you can get sunburned eyes, and just like you skin, it could come back and haunt you in the future.

eyes get sunburned
photo courtesy of Sarah DeRemer

Severely sunburned eyes, known as photokeratitis, is a result of prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays and can cause a burning sensation and blurred vision. Realize that these damaging UV rays do not just come directly from the sun, but also from the reflection of these rays from water and sand.

Symptoms of sunburned eyes include:

  • Eye pain
  • A  gritty feeling
  • Burning sensation
  • Red eyes
  • Swollen eyes and/or lids
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Glare and halos around lights
  • Headaches

These symptoms are temporary and should resolve on their own within 24 to 48 hours. If the symptoms last longer, see your eye doctor immediately.

While waiting for your eyes to recover you might want to:

  • Stay indoors and wear sunglasses to help with your increased light sensitivity.
  • Keep your eyes moist with preservative-free artificial tears.
  • Use OTC pain relievers to help with the pain and follow the recommended dosage.
  • DO NOT rub your eyes.
  • If you wear contact lenses, remove them immediately and stop wearing them until your eyes have returned to normal.
  • You may find that placing a cool, damp cloth over your closed eyes is soothing.

Just like with your skin, the UV rays do have a long-term effect on your eyes.  Sunlight can cause a slow deterioration of the cells in your eyes that could lead to eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Therefore it is best to limit you exposure to both direct and reflected UV rays.

The best ways to protect your eyes include wearing sunglasses that block 100% of the UV rays and a hat.  Not all sunglasses have UV protection, so make sure the ones you select do, and wear them whenever outdoors. Even on a cloudy day as UV rays penetrate clouds. For maximum protection consider wrap-around glasses to protect you from direct and indirect sunlight.  If you are participating in sports, goggles or glasses designed for your specific sport might be the best option. And don’t forget to wear a brimmed hat. It will not only protect you from indirect sunlight, it will also protect your face from sunburn.

Susan DeRemer

Susan DeRemer, CFRE
Discovery Eye Foundation

Eyeglasses Timeline

Eyeglasses are something we all take for granted, but they haven’t always existed. More than 700 year ago you had to learn to live with poor vision. Now more than 6 in 10 people in the US wear either glasses or contact lenses, with 60% of them being far-sighted. Here is an eyeglasses timeline to see how eyeglasses have evolved.

Eyeglasses timeline


Susan DeRemerSusan DeRemer, CFRE
Vice President of Development
Discovery Eye Foundation

Protective Eyewear for Home, Garden & Sports

Spring is here and it is always a good time to review important ways to protect your eyes now that you will be spending more time outdoors, enjoying sports, gardening or just basking in the warm spring sunshine.

Protective Eyewear for Home, Garden & Sports

protective eyewear - sunglasses
Sunglasses and wide brimmed hats are the first things to consider as you go outdoors. The damage from UVA/UVB rays from sunlight is ever present, even on cloudy days. It is also cumulative and can lead to cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Don’t forget to use sunscreen generously, helping to prevent a painful sunburn and skin cancer. If you perspire a great deal, think of a waterproof sunscreen that will not run into your eyes causing blurry vision and irritation.
protective eyewear - goggles
In your backyard or garden it is wise to use safety glasses or goggles when operating a chain saw, axe or hedge clipper. They will help to prevent small flying objects, dirt and debris from getting into your eyes. Tree sap and plant secretions can also be hazardous to your eyes. Wearing gloves should make you think twice about rubbing your eyes, or at least you can remove them if you can’t resist.

Home maintenance and spring cleaning offer some of the same threats as gardening. Beware of using any regular or power tools, paints and chemicals without protective eyewear because of flying debris, drips, splashes and sprays. Besides the general eye irritations and painful corneal scratches, you could permanently impact your vision. Also take care if your children are helping or playing nearby, they could also be at risk.
protective eyewear - sports
Spring is a great time to get outdoors and enjoy your favorite sports, but if you engage in any activities that involve throwing and catching balls, “flying” arms and elbows (such as karate), swinging bats, sticks or clubs, or anything that involves shooting (such as paintball or airsoft), you need protective goggles that wrap around and protect you from all angles. Not every threat will be coming from directly in front of you.

For these sports and recreational activities prescription eyeglasses, sunglasses and even occupational safety glasses are not enough to protect your eyes. You will need a highly impact-resistant polycarbonate to avoid a lens that can shatter and cause additional danger to your eyes. Consult your eye care professional to choose the right kind of eye protection for your warm weather activities.


Susan DeRemerSusan DeRemer, CFRE
Vice President of Development
Discovery Eye Foundation

Ways to Reduce the Harmful Effects of Sun Glare

During the height of summer sunshine (and heat!), it’s helpful to discuss the importance of eye protection, including ways to reduce the harmful effects of sun glare.

Fundamentally, we need light to see. Approximately 80% of all information we take in is received through the sense of sight. However, too much light – and the wrong kind of light – can create glare, which can affect our ability to take in information, analyze it, and make sense of our surroundings.

Facts about Sunlight

Every type of light has advantages and disadvantages, and sunlight is no exception:


• Sunlight is the best, most natural light for most daily living needs.
• Sunlight is continuous and full-spectrum: the sun’s energy at all wavelengths is equal and it contains all wavelengths of light (explained below).


• It is difficult to control the brightness and intensity of sunlight.
• Sunlight can create glare, which can be problematic for many people who have low vision.
• Sunlight is not always consistent or reliable, such as on cloudy or overcast days.

Visible Light and Light Rays

An important factor to consider is the measurement of visible light and light rays, beginning with the definition of a nanometer:

• A nanometer (nm) is the measurement of a wavelength of light.
• A wavelength is the distance between two successive wave crests or troughs:

Wavelength - glare

• A nanometer = 1/1,000,000,000 of a meter, or one-billionth of a meter. It’s very small!

The human visual system is not uniformly sensitive to all light rays. Visible light rays range from 400 nm (shorter, higher-energy wavelengths) ? 700 nm (longer, lower-energy wavelengths).
Visible Light Spectrum - glare
The visible light spectrum occupies just one portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, however:

• Below blue-violet (400 nm and below), is ultraviolet (UV) light.
• Above red (700 nm and above), is infrared (IR) light.
• Neither UV nor IR light is visible to the human eye.

Ultraviolet Light and Blue Light

Ultraviolet (UV) light has several components:

• Ultraviolet A, or UVA (320 nm to 400 nm): UVA rays age us.
• Ultraviolet B, or UVB (290 nm to 320 nm): UVB rays burn us.
• Ultraviolet C, or UVC (100 nm to 290 nm): UVC rays are filtered by the atmosphere before they reach us.

Blue light rays (400 nm to 470 nm) are adjacent to the invisible band of UV light rays:

• There is increasing evidence that blue light is harmful to the eye and can amplify damage to retinal cells.
• You can read more about the effects of blue light at Artificial Lighting and the Blue Light Hazard at Prevent Blindness.

A new study from the National Eye Institute confirms that sunlight can increase the risk of cataracts and establishes a link between ultraviolet (UV) rays and oxidative stress, the harmful chemical reactions that occur when cells consume oxygen and other fuels to produce energy.

Sunlight and Glare

Glare is light that does not help to create a clear image on the retina; instead, it has an adverse effect on visual comfort and clarity. Glare is sunlight that hinders instead of helps. There are two primary types of glare.

Disability glare

• Disability (or veiling) glare is sunlight that interferes with the clarity of a visual image and reduces contrast.
• Sources of disability glare include reflective surfaces (chrome fixtures, computer monitors, highly polished floors) and windows that are not covered with curtains or shades.

Discomfort glare

• Discomfort glare is sunlight that causes headaches and eye pain. It does not interfere with the clarity of a visual image.
• Sources of disability glare include the morning and evening positions of the sun; snow and ice; and large bodies of water, (including swimming pools).

Controlling Glare

You can protect your eyes from harmful sunlight and minimize the effects of glare by using a brimmed hat or visor in combination with absorptive lenses.

• Absorptive lenses are sunglasses that filter out ultraviolet and infrared light, reduce glare, and increase contrast. They are recommended for people who have low vision and are also helpful for people with regular vision.
• Lens colors include yellow, pink, plum, amber, green, gray, and brown. Ultra-dark lenses are not the only choice for sun protection.
• Lens tints in yellow or amber are recommended for controlling blue light.
NoIR Medical Technologies: NoIR (No Infra-Red) filters absorb UVA/UVB radiation and also offer IR light protection.
Solar Shields: Solar Shields absorb UVA/UVB radiation and are available in prescription lenses.
• You can find absorptive lenses at a specialty products store, an “aids and appliances store” at an agency for the visually impaired, or a low vision practice in your area. Before you purchase, it’s always best to try on several different tints and styles to determine what works best for you.

More Recommendations

• Always wear sunglasses outside, and make sure they conform to current UVA/UVB standards.
• Be aware that UV and blue light are still present even when it is cloudy or overcast.
• Make sure that children and older family members are always protected with UVA/UVB-blocking sunglasses and brimmed hats or visors.

Maureen Duffy-editedMaureen A. Duffy, CVRT
Social Media Specialist,
Associate Editor, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness
Adjunct Faculty, Salus University/College of Education and Rehabilitation

6 Summertime Tips for Children’s Vision


Summer vacation is around the corner and for children this means more time spent outside playing, swimming, or going to the beach. All of this outside activity increases their exposure to ultraviolet rays which is of particular concern because the lens of a child allows 70% more UV rays to reach the retina than in an adult. This may put them at increased risk of developing debilitating eye diseases such as cataracts or macular degeneration as adults.
Children with sunglasses
If you are wearing sunglasses to combat the bright sunlight, then your child should be wearing them, from babies on up. Wrap-around sunglasses provide more sun and eye protection. Wearing protective goggles during sports activities is also important as the National Eye Institute reports there are more than 100,000 sports-related eye injuries every year with 42,000 requiring emergency care.

While it may be hard to get them to leave them on, or if they keep falling off, invest in a strap that can range from $4.50-$10.00. They can be made of neoprene with fun designs like Croakies or they can use an adjustable cord like Chums. In any case it also helps cut down on lost sunglasses.

Pediatricians offer the following five suggestions for children to enjoy a fun and safe summer:

1. Wear sunglasses – especially younger children

During our lives, almost half of the time we spend outdoors is before the age of 12. Sunglasses for children don’t have to be expensive, but make sure they are rated to block both UVA and UVB radiation. Glasses should also have a polycarbonate lens to withstand shattering.

2. Wear protective eye gear for ball or shooting sports

Every year there are 18,000 sports-related eye injuries in US hospital emergency rooms. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that children wear polycarbonate goggles for baseball, basketball and racket sports, including tennis. It becomes even more important with shooting games like air-soft where the projectiles are so small, but can do major damage to the eye. Regular glasses are not recommended if they cannot be secured to the head or are not made from polycarbonate. Also make sure the goggles have proper sun protection for outside sports.

3. Don’t rub if sand gets in the eyes

If a child gets sand into his eyes, take the child immediately to a sink with running water. Do not allow them to rub their eyes as this can scratch the outer layer of the eye known as the cornea. Use a clean cup to pour water over the eyes to remove sand. Encourage blinking and do not discourage crying, because tears remove eye irritants. If flushing and blinking does not work, seek immediate medical attention.

4. Use a non-irritating sunscreen

While you can use adult sunscreens for children, make sure it is PABA free, since that chemical can cause irritation in some people. If your child gets a rash from his sunscreen, review the ingredient’s list and choose a different one. UVA protection from titanium dioxide or zinc oxide tends to be less irritating than avobenzone, another common ingredient.

5. Wear a wide-brimmed hat

Don’t just rely on sunscreen.  Have your child wear a hat with a wide brim.  It not only provides additional protection against sunburn on susceptible areas like the nose, neck and ears, but it also helps to protect their eyes from harmful UV rays.  Not all sunlight enters the eye direct from the front.  Wrap-arounds may help protect light from coming in the sides, but they do not stop sunlight from coming in the top or reflective glare from coming up from the bottom.

6. Check chlorine levels in your pool

Too little chlorine in a swimming pool can allow algae and other bacteria to grow, which can lead to eye infections. On the other end of the spectrum, be sure to check the levels of chloramines and the pH of the pool to avoid stinging and redness. Swim goggles are helpful to keep pool water from entering the eye. If redness and irritation persist after swimming, it could be a sign of a more serious infection and medical attention is needed.

Susan DeRemerSusan DeRemer, CFRE
Vice President of Development
Discovery Eye Foundation

Four Tips For Buying Sunglasses


May will be here this week, and in Southern California we are looking at bright, sun-filled days with temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s. This means that thousands will be heading to the beaches or their own backyards to enjoy the warm weather.

Now is the perfect time to review one of the biggest contributing factors to vision loss – sun exposure. And it’s not just about sunglasses, but also brimmed hats.


First let’s talk about sunglasses. There are three things to think about when selecting your sunglasses:
1. Lens tint
2. UV protection
3. Glare
4. Frames

Lens Tint
There is a misconception that the darker your sunglass lens, the better protection for your eyes. No true. The color or darkness of your lens is personal preference and often based on the activity you are doing while wearing sunglasses or the sun conditions. At the beach in bright sunlight you are subject to more reflective light and may prefer dark amber, copper or brown lens, if you are on the ski slopes when the skies are overcast you may prefer yellow or orange lens to increase contrast and fight “flat light.” If you are looking to increase contrast on a partially cloudy day, and if you don’t mind distorted color perception, you might prefer amber or rose lenses.

Other considerations include mirrored sun lenses that can block 10-15% more of the sun’s visible rays, or photochromic lenses that darken automatically when you go outside and then quickly become lighter when you come inside.

UV Protection
While darker lenses don’t offer better eye protection, controlling the UV exposure does. Research has found links that extended exposure to UVA and UVB rays can result in eye damage such as cataracts, photokeratitis and macular degeneration. By wearing sunglasses that block these harmful rays your eyes should remain healthier as you age. Also know that some parts of the country receive more UV rays than others – here is a wonderful chart from The Vision Council to let you see how your location rates.

Another problem when out in the sun, and especially driving, is glare. Making sure your lenses are polarized is a great help. They work by only letting in specific amounts of light at certain angles and reducing the brightness of that light.

Because I am light sensitive I find I use polarized lenses when I am reading outside is helpful. The reflected light from the page of a book can cause me to squint or fatigue my eyes if I read for a long period of time. The only other option is using a paper-ink e-reader which also helps cut down on glare.

Another way to deal with glare is the use of an anti-reflective (AR) coating on your lenses. It reduces eye stain by preventing light from reflecting off lens surfaces. When applied to the back of your lenses it can help with problems when the sun is behind you or to your side.

Not all light hits your eyes from directly in front. It can come through the top, sides and bottom of your frames. The smaller the frames, the more unfiltered light makes its way to your eyes. This is where a brimmed hat can help keep the sun coming in from the top while also providing protection for your face.

Fitovers - Auroa in Claret
Fitovers – Auroa in Claret

To provide you with the maximum protection, “fit-over” sunglasses, that you can wear over your regular prescription glasses, are a great idea and more economical. Cocoons Eyewear and Fitovers Eyewear are two of several companies that make them. They filter the light from the top, sides and even below to give you the maximum protection and come in a wide variety of lens colors. It is also nice not to have to get new sunglasses when your eyeglass prescription changes.

Whatever frames you choose make sure they fit properly and will not keep sliding down your nose or fall of when being active. You may even want to purchase a band-style foamed neoprene retainer that attaches at both temples, sometimes known as a gator.

Also remember, it is not just the direct sunlight you need to worry about. Water reflects up to 100% of the harmful UV rays, dry sand and concrete up to 25% and even grass reflects up to 3%.

Susan DeRemerSusan DeRemer, CFRE
Vice President of Development
Discovery Eye Foundation