Newswise — With summer approaching and temperatures on the rise, it’s important to protect not just your skin but also your eyes from the sun’s rays.

Photokeratitis, also called ultraviolet keratitis, is a painful eye condition that can occur when the surface of your eye, called the cornea, is exposed to intense ultraviolet rays of light, said Richard Hession, M.D., Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at UT Southwestern. The damage occurs to the outermost layer of the cornea, causing it to slough and fall off, not unlike skin peeling after a sunburn. Because the nerve endings on the surface of the eye are very sensitive, patients can experience intense pain.

While you’re unlikely to develop the condition simply by spending a lot of time in the sun, it can be caused by reflections off water as well as UV rays from tanning beds. Those most at risk are workers such as welders because of the intense light put out by their tools.

Wearing proper eye protection if your job requires it, or sunglasses when you're outdoors, will reduce your chance of developing this problem. In general, if you plan to spend a significant amount of time outdoors in the summer sun, you should wear sunscreen on exposed areas (SPF 30 or higher), a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes, Dr. Hession said.

Both children and adults should get eye exams

Vision screening for children is performed primarily by pediatricians, beginning at birth and continuing throughout childhood and adolescence. If a pediatrician finds a potential problem, they will refer patients to an ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye exam. Care will continue through young adulthood as needed.

Most adolescents and adults who need glasses or contacts will receive a complete dilated eye exam by their optometrist or ophthalmologist when they go to update their prescriptions. But even adults without vision problems should get a complete eye exam starting at 40 years of age, as recommended by the American Academy of Ophthalmology. According to Dr. Hession, several conditions can crop up and progress without symptoms such as glaucoma. It’s a disease that causes progressive damage to the optic nerve, resulting in loss of peripheral vision, and eventually total blindness. Untreated, patients can suffer a significant loss of vision from glaucoma before they are diagnosed. Better to catch it early and save a lot of vision.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,900 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits a year.


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