While on assignment in Portugal a few years ago, CNN’s Anderson Cooper (pictured) says he suffered an eye sunburn.
Here’s how he described the experience on his talk show, Anderson Live: “I wake up in the middle of the night and it feels like my eyes are on fire—my eyeballs!—and I think, oh, maybe I have sand in my eyes or something. Anyway, it turns out I have sunburned my eyeballs.”
Yes, it can happen—and at any time of year. According to Cheryl Zimmer with the Canadian Association of Optometrists, “The front clear surface of the eye, called the cornea, is composed of epithelial tissue similar to the skin. It’s very susceptible to the elements—wind and sun, in particular.”
Extensive UV exposure can even come from skiing without protective eyewear, says Zimmer. “The resulting condition, known as keratitis, can cause blurry vision and very sore eyes.” It can take 24 to 72 hours for the eyes to heal. “During that time vision may be reduced, but it’s unlikely to cause full blindness,” she says.
While an eye sunburn can be treated with drops and rest, prolonged exposure to UV light can contribute to a number of different health conditions, including macular degeneration and cataracts, says Zimmer. “Plus, tissues in the eye are susceptible to melanomas just like the skin.”
Squinting may protect your eyes, but it can lead to headaches and eye strain, so the best protection is a pair of sunglasses, says Zimmer. She suggests a pair that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
March/April issue of Best Health magazine.