Photokeratitis is a very painful, temporary condition affecting the eyes. This is caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays that come from the sun. Photokeratitis is compared to sunburn of the eyes, affecting the cornea (the clear window of your eye in front of your pupil) and conjunctiva (a clear layer of tissue covering the inside of your eyelid and the whites of your eye) rather than the skin.

Snow blindness is a common type of photokeratitis, caused by the UV rays bouncing off the snow. This is most common in skiers and people that live in snowy climates.

Who is at risk?

People who do the following are at a higher risk of developing photokeratitis:

  • Spend a lot of time outdoors in the sun – engaging in activities such as mountain climbing, hiking, skiing, and swimming.
  • Use a sunlamp, tanning bed, or work or spend time in environments in which there is UV light source like welders.
    Live in higher altitudes (greater exposure to UV rays) or in the sunbelt.

The symptoms associated with photokeratitis can differ depending on the severity, this will depend on how long you were exposed to the UV light for. The symptoms should only last for around 6-24 hours, however you should be back to normal after within 48 hours. This includes:

  • Pain or redness in the eyes
  • Tearing/watery eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Swelling
  • Light sensitivity
  • Twitching of the eyelids
  • Gritty sensation in the eyes
  • Temporary loss of vision
  • Seeing halos
  • Headaches
  • Temporary vision loss (rare)
  • Colour changes in your vision (rare)

It is important that you protect your eyes from UV rays as long-term exposure can increase your risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration. If you would like to find out more please read our previous blog.

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.