4 Things Surfers Need to Know about Ultraviolet Keratitis

Surfing is a popular water sport, but it poses many dangers to participants. Most surfers are aware of the dangers of marine life and riptides, but you may not know that you can also injure your eyes while you're surfing. Surfers are at risk of ultraviolet keratitis, a radiation injury. Here are four things surfers need to know about this eye condition.

1. How does surfing lead to ultraviolet keratitis?

When you're surfing, you're exposed to more ultraviolet (UV) rays than you would be during other outdoor sports. This is because sea foam reflects a lot of radiation, and this increases your UV exposure.

When you're doing sports on grass, soil, or even calm water, less than 10% of the sun's rays are reflected back at you. In comparison, sand reflects 15% of the sun's rays and sea foam reflects a whopping 25%. It's easy to see how a day on the waves can damage your eyes!

2. What are the signs of ultraviolet keratitis?

Ultraviolet keratitis is essentially a sunburn of your eyes, and the symptoms are fairly similar to what you would expect when you get a sunburn on your skin. Your eyes will be very sore and irritated, and the outer layer of your eye may become swollen. The whites of your eyes will be red. Since your eyes are so sensitive, you can experience additional symptoms, like spasms of your eyelids or decreased vision.

The signs of ultraviolet keratitis take several hours to develop, so you may not realize that you've burned your eyes until you're already done surfing. This makes it possible for you to severely burn your eyes.

3. Can ultraviolet keratitis damage your vision?

Fortunately, it's rare for ultraviolet keratitis to permanently damage your vision. Generally, people recover within 24 to 72 hours, so you'll probably just miss a couple days of surfing. While you're recovering, you may want to rest in a dark room or put a cool compress on your eyes to make yourself feel better.

However, serious complications can occur, so you need to take ultraviolet keratitis seriously. Some people develop superinfections, so your optometrist may prescribe antibiotic eye drops to keep this from happening. Vision loss may also occur if your corneas are severely damaged by the sun or by a superinfection, but this is rare.

4. How can surfers protect their eyes?

There are many things you can do to protect your eyes while you're in the water. Wearing sunglasses is very important, though you may find that your regular sunglasses tend to fall off when you're hit by a wave. To combat this problem, choose sunglasses that are specifically designed for surfing. These sunglasses have a strap that goes around the back of your head to hold your sunglasses firmly in place.

A surf hat can also help to keep the sun out of your eyes. These waterproof, wide-brimmed hats are held in place by a strap beneath your chin, so you don't need to worry about your hat falling off. A hat isn't a substitute for a pair of sunglasses, but using both together can help to protect your eyes from the sun.

If possible, try to avoid surfing during the middle of the day—between 10 am and 4 pm—when the sun is high in the sky. You'll be exposed to more UV rays during these hours, and your eyes will be at risk. If you want to surf during this time, make doubly sure to wear your sunglasses and surf hat for protection.

If your eyes feel sore and sunburned after you've been surfing, you may have ultraviolet keratitis and should see an optometrist. To set an appointment, contact a representative from an establishment like Montgomery Eye Center.