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'I had no idea you could do this': How Anderson Cooper burned his eyes

Wear sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats to avoid the condition, experts say

Topics: Behavioral Health, Service Lines

December 07, 2012

CNN's Anderson Cooper this week is spreading the word about "sunburned eyes" after two hours on a boat in Portugal without sunglass left him "blind for 36 hours."

Although the condition—known to ophthalmologists as "photokeratitis"— does not actually cause blindness, it can be so painful "people feel they can't open their eyes," says Anne Sumers, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

"I wake up in the middle of the night and it feels like my eyes are on fire, my eyeballs, and I think oh maybe I have sand in my eyes or something," Cooper said Tuesday on his show Anderson Live.

According to Sumers, the condition occurs when intense ultraviolet light—often reflected off water, sand, or snow—burns the cornea. The painful side effects usually come a few hours after exposure and can include a feeling of grit in the eyes and vision that is mildly to severely blurred.

Sumers advises patients with the condition to "take it easy in a dark room" for a day or so, but not to wear an eye patch, as Cooper has been photographed doing.

Health experts recommend individuals wear sunglasses that block at least 99% of UV light (both UVA and UVB) and broad-brimmed hats, even when the sun does not seem very bright (Painter, USA Today, 12/5).

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