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
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
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
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.
Primary Medical Reviewer
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.