What is ultraviolet keratitis?

Updated: Mar 14, 2019
  • Author: Alex Koyfman, MD; Chief Editor: Liudvikas Jagminas, MD, FACEP  more...
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Ultraviolet (UV) light is the most common cause of radiation injury to the eye. The cornea absorbs most UV radiation. UV radiation damage to the corneal epithelium is cumulative, similar to the effects with dermal epithelium (sunburn). Ozone in the atmosphere effectively filters most of the harmful UV radiation of wavelengths shorter than 290 nm; natural UV sources, such as the sun, rarely cause injury after short exposures. However, unprotected exposures to the sun or solar eclipses or exposure to the sun on highly reflective snow fields at high elevation can lead to direct corneal epithelial injury. The latter clinical scenario is known as snow blindness.

Artificial sources of UV radiation also cause corneal damage. Injury from a welder's arc commonly is known as flash burn, welder's flash, or arc eye. Other sources of UV radiation injury include sun tanning beds, carbon arcs, photographic flood lamps, lightning, electric sparks, and halogen desk lamps. Several outbreaks of ultraviolet keratitis have been observed in the United States after installation of improper lighting in school gymnasiums, resulting in high levels of UV radiation. [1]

Prolonged exposures to UV radiation can lead to chronic solar toxicity, which is associated with several ocular surface disorders (eg, pinguecula, pterygium, climatic droplet keratopathy, squamous metaplasia, carcinoma). The only ocular cancer associated with UV radiation is epidermoid carcinoma of the bulbar conjunctiva, which occurs with increased frequency in the tropics and subtropics and has been experimentally replicated in animal models using UV radiation. Rarely, retinal absorption of visible to near-infrared (400-1400 nm) radiation from welding arcs can lead to permanent, sight-threatening injury. [2]

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