Protect your eyes this summer
Seattle just experienced an unusually hot and sunny stretch of weather. We had to dig out our hats and sunglasses early this year. Anyone who didn’t might have ended up with a case of sunburned eyes.
Bottom line on top: Eyes can get sunburned, too!
Eyes are especially prone to sunburn when sunlight is reflected off water, sand or pavement (or snow in the winter).
If your eyes are red, swollen, and feel gritty, you probably have a sunburn (fancy medical name: photokeratitis).
First aid do’s:
- Get out of the sun.
- Apply cool compresses, such as a washcloth soaked in cold water, for 15 minutes every hour, until the discomfort lessens.
- Use eye drops—artificial tears or lubricants—preferably without the preservative benzalkonium chloride (BAK), which causes increased irritation.
- Take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) as directed for pain.
- Rest your eyes—take a break from your computer, TV and cell phone. Long periods on these devices dry out your eyes and slow the healing process. Give yourself a 5-10 minute break every hour.
First aid don’ts:
- Do not use Visine to get the red out! It contains a decongestant that constricts the tiny blood vessels in your eyes and increases the irritation and discomfort.
- Do not apply ice packs directly to your eyes.
- Do not wear contact lenses until your eyes heal.
Sunburned eyes generally heal more quickly than your skin. If the discomfort gets worse or persists after two to three days, contact your healthcare provider.
Tips to prevent sunburned eyes
Other than staying out of the sun, hats and sunglasses are your best protection against the sun’s damaging rays. Wear hats with a wide brim that blocks out light from the sides as well as from above. Buy sunglasses that specifically say they protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Read the labels! Look for a label that claims:
- “blocks 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays” or
- “absorbs up to 400 nm of UV radiation” or
- “UV 400”
Do not buy sunglasses that simply say “absorbs UV” or “blocks the sun.”
The color or darkness of the lens does not matter. Neither does the cost. Good, protective sunglasses do not need to be expensive. Buy what your budget and fashion sense allow.
Polarized lenses do not block UV rays, but they mitigate glare, which is useful when on the water. 😎
Childrens’ eyes are particularly sensitive to the sun! Make sure they wear a hat and protective sunglasses, as well.