All the information you need on Photokeratitis and How to Cure It

All the information you need on Photokeratitis and How to Cure It

Photokeratitis is a burn in the cornea caused due to prolonged exposure to UV rays. It disappears on its own but treatment involves making the symptoms bearable.

What is Photokeratitis?

Photokeratitis, also known as radiation keratitis or snow blindness, is a temporary burn of the cornea ( the clear front surface of the eye ) that results in extreme pain in the eye.

Snow blindness is actually a common form of photokeratitis. It is caused by the UV rays when they get reflected off the ice or snow. This type of photokeratitis is more common in the North and South Pole areas or at high mountain ranges where there is a massive amount of snow present. The air at such high altitudes is also thinner and hence provides less protection against the UV rays. Snow blindness may also be referred to as freezing of the surface of the cornea or severe drying of the corneal surface due to the dry air. Skiing, snowmobiling and mountain climbing are some of the activities that might result in such a type of condition.

What are the causes of Photokeratitis?

The condition of photokeratitis occurs due to the prolonged and unprotected exposure of eyes to UV rays. These UV rays can reach the eyes through reflection from sand, water, ice or snow. Staring at the sun for too long, such as in the case of watching a solar eclipse directly without using glasses or some special device can also cause a slight burn to the retina which is a long-lasting effect of UV rays.

As seen above, it is clear that the most important cause of photokeratitis is the only continued exposure to ultraviolet rays ( UV-A and UV-B rays in particular ). The sun is the major and the ultimate source of UV rays. These harmful rays coming directly from the sun can do both short- and long-term damage to human eyes and can result in absolute vision loss. These rays damage the epithelial cells of the cornea and cause them to slough off after several hours. This is very much similar to having a kind of “sunburn” in the eye. Apart from UV-A and UV-B, the sun emits UV-C rays as well. But these rays already get absorbed by the ozone layer and hence do not cause much harm to the eyes.

Apart from the sun, various other sources of ultraviolet rays include:

  • Welding sparks
  • Mercury vapor lamps
  • Some halogen, fluorescent and incandescent lights
  • Tanning lamps and tanning beds

Who is at a high risk of getting Photokeratitis?

A person is clearly at a high risk of getting photokeratitis if he/she:

  • Spends a lot of time outdoors with direct and prolonged exposure to the sun.
  • Uses mercury vapor lamps, incandescent bulbs or spends a lot of time working in an environment that contains a UV light source.
  • Lives at higher altitudes ( chances of developing snow blindness ) or lives in the sunbelt ( direct exposure to UV rays ).


Somewhere between 30 minutes to 12 hours after continued exposure to UV rays, the person might start developing symptoms of photokeratitis. The disease readily gets noticed when the body shows any of the following symptoms:

  • Redness of the eye:

Since the condition is more like a sunburn, the eyes of the patient with photokeratitis tend to become fully red as the first prominent sign of infection or a disease . In fact , red eyes is a very common phenomenon in snowy areas or areas at higher altitudes because of the air that dries out the eyes.

  • Swelling and pain in the eyes:

Similar to many eye problems, whenever the eyes detect some unusual happening, they get swelled up and cause pain if the condition becomes worse. With the course of time, swelling increases. A probable reason as to why the eyes swell up can be the inflammation of the cornea that occurs as one of the side effects of this sunburn condition.

UV rays are found to be responsible for the clouding of  eye lens. Prolonged exposure to UV rays can result in the eye lens becoming opaque. This is also considered as one of the leading causes of cataract. If the condition of sunburn in the eye does not improve, it can gradually lead to cataract.

  • Other minor symptoms:

Apart from the above mentioned symptoms: Headache, small pupils, sensitivity to bright light and eyelid twitching are some other minor symptoms that indicate that the person might be suffering from photokeratitis.

How does the diagnosis of Photokeratitis takes place?

After long and continued exposure to the UV rays, if the person starts developing one or more of the symptoms mentioned above, he/she is highly advised to visit an ophthalmologist. The ophthalmologist will question the patient regarding the changes in his/her physical environment and conduct a physical examination to check for bilateral eye involvement. If the eye involvement is unilateral, one could be suspicious of a corneal or tarsal foreign body or other causes of unilateral eye irritation and redness. He might also conduct tests to determine the degree of damage that has occurred to the eyes due to the UV rays. He may also use eye drops containing a dye called fluorescein for the patient’s eyes. The dye helps in revealing superficial irregularities on the corneal surface.

 What are the ways to treat Photokeratitis?

Photokeratitis is a disease that usually goes away on its own. Hence, the medical treatment only involves the steps to make the condition easy and the symptoms bearable till the time the eyes get full relief from the disease.

Some of the important ways to treat photokeratitis are as follows:

  • Place a soft washcloth dipped in cold water gently over the closed eyes of the patient. Give the affected eyes a gentle massage for 10-15 minutes.
  • Use artificial tears, especially for the cases in which the eyes have become dry. The tears hence produced will form a protective layer over the eye which will help to prevent the eye from the UV rays.
  • Regularly use eye drops for the eye as per your ophthalmologist’s recommendations.
  • Use pain relievers, if at all the eyes pain too much.
  • Avoid going out in the sun or close to any of the sources of UV rays. Try sitting and spending most of your time in dark until your eye condition improves.

Typical medical treatment mainly involves keeping the eye closed with patches, after instilling a few drops of ophthalmic antibiotic solution. But this treatment option has not been found very useful by many experts. Hence, other options such as the use of artificial tears, ointment, eye drops, and oral analgesics are preferred. The vision, in most cases, returns after 18 hours with the corneal surface regenerating within a period of 24 to 48 hours.

 Precautions to be taken –  

  • If the patient uses contact lenses, he/she should keep them away until the cornea gets healed.
  • The person suffering from photokeratitis should not rub his eyes during the course of the treatment. Rubbing one’s eyes can increase the chances of the already painful eye getting infected.
  • Use sunglasses or shades with adequate UVB protection and full coverage of the eyes ( side shields) while going out in order to minimise UV exposure.

The best way to treat your eyes is to visit your eye care professional and get your eyes checked regularly. He will be able to assess the best method of treatment for your eye ailment.Visit our website Eyemantra.To book an appointment call at +91-8851044355. Or mail us at [email protected].Our other services include Retina SurgerySpecs RemovalCataract Surgery, and many more.

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