UV Damage to your eyes

Solar retinopathy

Solar retinopathy is a more serious and long-lasting form of UV damage to your eyes. Photokeratitis is a sunburn on your cornea, at the front of your eye, and usually goes away in a few days. Solar retinopathy, however, is a burn to your retina, which is the layer of cells at the back of your eye that detects light.

Solar retinopathy is painless, as there are no nerve cells in your retina. However, it can be permanent, as it can destroy some of the light-sensing cells in your retina.⁶


Diagnosis and treatment

Photokeratitis usually goes away on its own. There are also ways you can relieve the symptoms yourself:¹

  • Removing contact lenses, if you’re wearing them
  • Resting your eyes in a dimly-lit room
  • Taking over-the-counter painkillers
  • Putting a cold compress over your closed eyes, like a face cloth dampened with cold water
  • Using lubricating eye drops, also known as artificial tears⁴

If the symptoms don’t seem to be going away after a few days, or if they’re particularly troublesome, you may wish to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist. They can tell you whether you have photokeratitis (temporary sunburn to the front of your eye) or solar retinopathy (a burn to your retina which is likely to be permanent). They can also see whether your symptoms have been caused by something else which needs more urgent treatment. They may also be able to give you more options for treating the symptoms of photokeratitis, such as antibiotic eye drops.¹

If you have solar retinopathy, the damage is likely to be untreatable, although you can learn to adjust to the change in your vision.⁶

Your optometrist or ophthalmologist can diagnose photokeratitis by looking at your eyes and giving you eye drops containing an orange dye that helps show up the UV damage. The drops may sting slightly.⁵

Preventing UV damage to your eyes

UV damage to your eyes can be painful, so it’s a good idea to avoid it by wearing adequate eye protection. If you’re going to be in bright sunlight, you should wear sunglasses that are designed to block or absorb UV rays. Not all sunglasses do this, however; cheaper sunglasses often just block some of the light but let the invisible UV rays through. Try to find sunglasses rated as UV400 to block and absorb at least 99% of UVA and UVB rays.

When skiing, you should wear sunglasses or ski goggles which are designed to block UV rays. Also if you’re welding, you should wear appropriate safety equipment, including a welding visor.

If you want to watch an eclipse, you should always watch it through solar filter glasses or hand-held solar filters. Do not look directly at the sun, even when it’s almost fully eclipsed. Even a good pair of sunglasses can’t protect your eyes when watching an eclipse. Make sure your solar filter glasses aren’t scratched or damaged before you use them, as this could let the UV rays through and damage your eyes. Looking at the sun (or partially eclipsed sun) through binoculars or a telescope, even with a UV filter, can damage your eyes. The binoculars or telescope make the UV rays more intense than the filter is designed to block.³


Back to overview