Photokeratitis and other phototoxic effects on the cornea and conjunctiva

Int J Toxicol. 2002 Nov-Dec;21(6):455-64. doi: 10.1080/10915810290169882.


Except when sleeping, the cornea and interpalpebral conjunctiva are exposed to the ambient environment, both natural and man-made. Levels of solar ultraviolet irradiance reaching the eye may exceed the damage threshold under a number of circumstances. The consequences of overexposure may be acute after a latent period, sequelae to an acute exposure, or long-term chronic effects. Previously derived action spectra for photokeratitis and photoconjunctivitis due to incoherent ultraviolet are presented. These reveal interspecies similarities for the levels of radiant energy reaching each tissue. The initial in vivo (clinical) signs of photokeratitis are due to lost or damaged epithelial cells with other signs produced by this primary response. The conjunctival signs include injection and chemosis. Chronic exposure to solar ultraviolet is a factor in climatic droplet keratopathy and pterygium. Phototoxic compounds or their by-products potentially can reach the cornea from the air, via the tears or aqueous humor, or from the limbal capillaries. However, the human cornea appears to be much less susceptible to the influence of phototoxic agents than the skin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Animals
  • Chronic Disease
  • Conjunctiva / pathology
  • Conjunctiva / radiation effects*
  • Cornea / pathology
  • Cornea / radiation effects*
  • Epithelial Cells / radiation effects
  • Epithelial Cells / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Keratoconjunctivitis / etiology*
  • Keratoconjunctivitis / pathology
  • Pterygium / etiology
  • Radiation Injuries / etiology*
  • Radiation Injuries / pathology
  • Species Specificity
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects