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What You Should Know: Photokeratitis

Photokeratitis july 2022

During these warm summer months there is an increased focus on skin protection, with the use of sunscreen, shades, protective clothing, etc., and there is also a need for the same type of focus and protection for the eyes. July is UV Safety Month, which presents an excellent opportunity to highlight how you can protect your vision when enjoying time outdoors and in the sun.     

One primary condition that you should be aware of when it comes to vision and UV exposure is Photokeratitis. This is a painful eye condition that occurs when the eyes are exposed to invisible rays of energy called ultraviolet (UV) rays, either from the sun or a man-made source (such as tanning beds.) Essentially, photokeratitis is like having sunburn on the eye. The condition affects the thin surface layer of the cornea and the conjunctiva, the clear tissue covering the white part of the eye and inside of the eyelids.  

Symptoms of Photokeratitis 

Similarly to sunburn on the skin, photokeratitis is typically not noticed until after the damage has occurred. Symptoms can include:  

  • Pain 
  • Redness 
  • Blurriness  
  • Tearing  
  • Gritty feeling  
  • Swelling 
  • Sensitivity to bright light 
  • Headache 
  • Seeing halos 
  • Small pupils 
  • Eyelid twitching 
  • Temporary vision loss (rarely) 

The longer the exposure to UV rays the more severe the symptoms will be.  

Diagnosis & Treatment of Photokeratitis 

An ophthalmologist can diagnosis photokeratitis through a visit and assessment of the eyes. They will discuss recent activity, examine the eyes, and use an eye drop with fluorescein dye to look for UV damage. Once a diagnosis is established, the ophthalmologist will discuss treatment options and next steps for care.  

Typically photokeratitis goes away on its own, just as a sunburn on the skin typically heals over time. Treatment then is focused on easing discomfort for the patient as much as possible while waiting for the condition to resolve. Recommendations include:  

  • Removing contact lenses immediately, if worn. Keeping these on will only exacerbate discomfort during the healing process 
  • Remaining out of the sun and stay in darker rooms if possible  
  • Trying relief remedies, including:  
  • Placing a cold washcloth over eyes 
  • Using artificial tears 
  • Taking select pain relievers as recommended by the ophthalmologist 
  • Administering eye-drop antibiotics if prescribed by the ophthalmologist  

Prevention of Photokeratitis 

Photokeratitis may be prevented by wearing eye protection that blocks UV radiation. Options include:  

  • Sunglasses that block or absorb 99% or more of UV rays  
  • Snow goggles (during winter months) designed to block UV rays  
  • Welding helmets (for individuals in the welding industry)  


Protecting yourself and your eyesight is a key priority at ReFocus Eye Health. If you have questions about eye protection and safety, or you would like to meet with one of our many expert ophthalmologists, get started here