cooper photokeratitis

Photokeratitis: sunburn of the eye

Two weeks ago, Anderson Cooper, international correspondent for CNN News (USA), was on assignment filming on a boat on the Portuguese coast.  Eight hours later, he woke with “excruciating eye pain” and he said he was effectively blind for the next 36 hours.

He was suffering from “photokeratitis” which is, basically, a sunburn of the delicate outer tissues of the eyeball—the cornea and conjunctiva. Anderson said he was surprised because he was only in the boat for two hours, and it was an overcast day! How could that happen?

If Anderson knew something about photokeratitis, he would know that being on the water is an additional hazard, as water, like sand, reflects the UV rays of the sunlight upward into your eyes. Snow is even worse, with high reflectivity, and causes the well-known “snow blindness” in skiers who don’t wear goggles.

Anderson said it was a windy day—also an irritant to the outer eye surface—and, combined with his not wearing sunglasses, photokeratitis was not a surprising outcome.

Many people think that when the sky is overcast, you don’t need sunglasses. According to the World Health Organization, dense clouds generally lower UV exposure but “light or thin clouds have little effect and may even enhance UV levels because of scattering. Don’t be fooled by an overcast day or a cool breeze!”.

It is not only the cornea and conjunctiva that are at risk. According to the American Academy of Opthalmology (USA), chronic sun exposure, unprotected by adequate sunglasses, can lead to early cataracts as well as age-related macular degeneration. Some people, especially those exposed chronically to wind as well as sun, will develop unattractive yellow growths on the outer surface of the eye, and even cancers can develop from long-term exposure.

The best treatment is prevention, and that means sunglasses, but choose your sunglasses wisely:

1) The color or darkness of the sunglasses is not so important. The one critical factor is the degree of UVA and UVB protection! The best way to know for sure is a certifying tag on the sunglasses: “100% UVA-UVB protection” or similar. Buy from a reliable store!

2) Avoid sunglasses sold by street vendors. They typically do not have adequate UV protection, and these glasses may actually increase the damage to your eyes; worse than no sunglasses at all! This is because the dark lens allows the iris of your eye to open up, allowing even more UV rays to penetrate into your eyes.

3) Wrap around sunglasses are the best, protecting against UV rays entering from the side, as well as from wind.

Fortunately Anderson Cooper, like almost everyone with photokeratitis, recovered his vision, but with smart use of good quality sunglasses on sunny or cloudy days, you won’t have to worry about your eyes at least! And don’t forget, children need eye protection outside just as much as adults!

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Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)