Balancing the Risk of Eye Irritation from UV-C with Infection from Bioaerosols


  • David Sliney

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
    • Consulting Medical Physicist, Fallston, Maryland
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  • This paper is part of the Symposium-in-Print on “Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation.”
  • [Correction added on July 29, 2013: Figures 4 and 5 were transposed. Additionally, in equations 2a-b, the expression (30 J · cm−2) should read (30 J · m−2).]

Corresponding author email: (David Sliney)


The very aspect (phototoxicity) that makes short-wavelength ultraviolet (UV) radiation an effective germicidal agent also is responsible for the unwanted side effects of erythema (reddening of the skin) and photokeratitis (“welder's flash” or “snow-blindness”). Overexposure to this short-wavelength UV radiation can produce these unwanted side effects from a very mild irritation of the skin and eyes to a rather painful case of photokeratitis. These effects are fortunately transient, as only superficial cells of the eye—the corneal epithelium—and the most superficial layer of the skin—the superficial epidermis—are significantly affected. Normal turnover of these cells soon erase the signs and symptoms of these effects. Radiant energy in the UV-C band has very shallow penetration depths which account for the very superficial nature of any injury to the skin and eyes from excessive exposure, minimum risk of delayed effects and at the same time the strong absorption by bioaerosols. Guidelines for human exposure to UV-C must be applied intelligently so as not to limit germicidal efficacy in upper-room ultraviolet germicidal irradiation.