Anderson Cooper's eyeburn: How common is sun eye damage?

Story highlights

  • Anderson Cooper sunburnt his eyes while on water without sunglasses
  • Such severe sunburns are possible without eye protection, expert says
  • Wearing sunglasses to protect against UVA and UVB rays are important

( Tuesday afternoon's epsiode of "Anderson Live," host Anderson Cooper told viewers he sunburnt his eyes on a recent trip to Portugal, and was subsequently blind for 36 hours. Cooper said the injury occurred while he was on the water, without sunglasses, for an extended period of time reporting for CBS's "60 Minutes."

"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,'" Anderson said. "I douse my eyes with water. Anyway, it turns out I have sunburned my eyeballs and I go blind. I went blind for 36 hours."
Just how common is sunburning your eyes? According to Dr. Deborah Sarnoff, senior vice president of The Skin Cancer Foundation and practicing dermatologist at Cosmetique in New York, sunburns to the extent of Cooper's doesn't happen too often, but it is possible if you're not wearing the right protection.
    "We have sunscreen we can put on our skin, but we don't have eye drops that offer a protective film for the cornea, so it is really important that everyone, and especially people with fair or light eyes, wear sunglasses that protect against both UVA and UVB rays," says Sarnoff.
    According to Sarnoff, the outer eyeball layer, known as the cornea, is similar to the outer layer of skin. When it is burned by the sun's rays, the cornea becomes inflamed -- an effect