Thursday, August 16, 2012

I think I burnt my eyeballs

Oversized sunglasses aren't always
just for looks.
Last week, I complained to a handful of my friends: "It's August and I've worn my swimsuit only once this summer!" I know I don't purposefully lay out in the sun anymore, but a summer without swimming? It just doesn't feel like summer.

The weatherman forecasted it was going to be in the 90s on Sunday, so a small group of us decided to take a day trip to the Clackamas River. If you're from the Portland area, you probably know the Clackamas River. On hot summer days, it attracts a huge crowd of rowdy young adults (think frat party with water).You park one car at the top, float down the river on a tube, and drive back up to the top with your second car once you reach the bottom.

Even though I was swarmed by lots of tan bodies, I carefully applied my sunscreen to all exposed areas. I even spritzed my scalp and reapplied several times throughout the course of the float. By the time we were about three quarters of the way done, I started to feel an intense burning sensation in my eyes. At first I assumed it was just a little sunscreen that had run into my eye, but even after splashing clean water on my face, the burning persisted. I found myself needing to face away from the sun and shield my eyes from the glare with my hands--even though I had sunglasses on. By the time we reached the spot where our second car was parking, I was squinting like a pirate and could barely see a thing.

On Monday morning, it just so happened that I had a doctor's appointment scheduled, so while I was there, I politely asked her to inspect my eye.

"There are no scratches or anything," she said, "But it sure does look inflamed."

That was an understatement. My right eye was so puffy it looked like I'd been up half the night crying over a movie on Lifetime.

"You probably just got too much sun. Were you wearing sunglasses?"

Of course I was wearing sunglasses. My eyes have always been ├╝ber sensitive. But maybe my sunglasses didn't provide full-spectrum UV protection. Or maybe a mysterious river-borne pathogen had somehow creeped its way into my eye. I didn't know, so I Googled.

Have you ever you've wondered: Can eyes get sunburned? Surprisingly, the answer (according to my doc and WebMD) is yes. In fact, symptoms include:
  • Burning pain.
  • A feeling that something is in your eye (foreign body sensation).
  • Decreased vision.
  • Excessive tearing.
  • Hypersensitivity to light.

These symptoms, which can last for up to a few days, were sounding eerily familiar. Maybe I did burn my eyeballs. Scary, because excessive damage to your retina can cause vision problems later in life. So it remains a mystery whether I sunburned my eyes this weekend or not, but my love/hate relationship with the sun continues...


  1. Ouch! That sounds painful! Hope it heals quickly! :-)

  2. I've burned my eyes after spending an entire day on the lake skiing... I feel your pain. :(

  3. Katie, I've heard doctors here say that (eyeball sunburn) occurs quite often when glare, sun and water are the mixture but many people don't realise their ailment is good old fashioned sunburn. I always thought that top quality high uv rated sunglasses protected against this but apparently not.
    I do hope your eye is much better very soon.