Sunburn and Eye Pain or Vision Problems

Eye pain or vision problems after being in the sun can be serious.

Symptoms of vision problems from sun exposure may include:

  • Partial or complete vision loss.
  • Burning pain.
  • A feeling that something is in your eye (foreign body sensation).
  • Decreased vision.
  • Photophobia.

The eyes are very sensitive to sunlight. Sunburning your eyes can cause damage to the light-sensitive membrane that covers the inside of the eyeball (retina) or damage to the lens (which can eventually cause cataracts).

You might also have pain, more tearing, and a gritty feeling in your eyes if they have been sunburned. These symptoms usually begin several hours after being in the sun. If these symptoms do not go away, an evaluation by a doctor is needed.

Snow blindness is a sunburn of the clear covering over the colored part of the eye (cornea). Snow blindness occurs at high altitudes where the sunlight is more intense. Skiers, climbers, and hikers should wear protective sunglasses with side panels to reduce the amount of ultraviolet (UV) rays reflected into the eyes.

Damage to the retina is usually the result of having looked directly at the sun. The intense brightness of the sun stops most people from looking directly at it. Looking at a solar eclipse without protective eyewear can also cause eye damage. Problems with the retina can lead to impaired vision or blindness.

Cataracts can be caused from direct, intense ultraviolet rays hitting the eyes over many years. Cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness. Cataracts develop gradually over a long time.

Sunglasses that block 99% or 100% of ultraviolet rays can protect you from eye problems related to sun exposure. Sunglass labels that say UV absorption up to 400 nanometers (nm) provide 100% UV protection.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised September 1, 2011

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2012 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.