Photokeratitis is a painful eye condition that occurs when your eye is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, either from the sun or from a man-made source. Photokeratitis essentially like having a sunburned eye. This condition affects the thin surface layer of the cornea — the clear front window of the eye — and the conjunctiva, which is the cell layer covering the inside of the eyelids and the whites of the eye.
Photokeratitis can be caused by sun reflection from sand, water, ice and snow. It can also result if one stares at the sun directly, such as during solar eclipse, without using special eye wear or protective devices. A solar eclipse can also cause a burn to the retina, which is long lasting and considerably more serious than temporary corneal damage. In addition to the sun, there are also many man-made sources of UV light that can burn one's eyes. These include tanning lamps and tanning beds, along with arc welding.
Similar to a sunburn on one's skin, photokeratitis is not typically noticed until well after the damage has occurred. Symptoms include: pain, redness, blurriness, tearing, gritty feeling, swelling, sensitivity to bright light, headache, small pupils,twitching eyelids and on rare occasions, vision loss. Generally, the longer one is exposed to UV rays, the more severe the symptoms will be.
Photokeratitis usually heals on its own, so treatment is mainly focused on making one feel better as the eyes heal.
Individuals that contact lenses should remove them immediately and get out of the sun and find a dark room. Relief may be achieved by placing a cold washcloth over closed eyes, applying artificial tears, taking particular pain relievers (as recommended by an optometrist) and/or by taking eye drop antibiotics (as prescribed by an optometrist). Individuals should avoid rubbing their eyes as they heal. Symptoms typically go away gradually in a 24 to 48 hours.
Wearing proper eye protection can prevent damage to the eyes from UV rays. UV blocking sunglasses and snow goggles along with welding helmets can prevent Photokeratitis.