Preventing Snow Blindness

While most people have sunglasses high on their packing list for a tropical vacation, many people don’t consider it as much of a priority for colder climate getaways. But they should, and here’s why:

Wintertime vacations often include activities that involve snow and ice and in general, conditions that can lead to overexposure to UV rays from the sun. Without proper eye protection, this can lead to photokeratitis or snow blindness, a condition that results in pain and temporary vision loss.

Photokeratitis is essentially a sunburn on the eye which occurs when the eye is exposed to invisible ultraviolet or UV rays, from the sun or other sources such as sunlamps or tanning beds. It mainly affects the cornea, the curved outermost surface of the eye that plays a role in your ability to focus, and the conjunctiva, the membrane that covers the front of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelid. It causes inflammation, pain and sometimes a temporary loss of vision.

Despite its name, snow blindness doesn’t occur exclusively in the snow. It can happen in any environment in which UV rays are strongly reflected including water, sand or ice as well. It is also more common in high altitudes where the sun’s ultraviolet rays are stronger and the air is thinner, which is why skiing and mountain climbing can even be riskier than summertime activities on a lower altitude. Snow and ice reflect more UV light than almost any other surface, but you don’t always feel or notice the strong glare, making snow blindness a silent winter hazard that can only be prevented by awareness.

Symptoms of Snow Blindness

Unfortunately, just like any sunburn, you usually don’t notice the symptoms of snow blindness until the damage has already been done. Symptoms usually occur several hours after the activity, so one may not realize that they were caused from snow blindness.

Symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Burning
  • Redness
  • Grittiness
  • Tearing
  • Light Sensitivity
  • Glare or Halos
  • Blurry Vision
  • Watery Eyes
  • Swollen Eyes or Eyelids
  • Headaches
  • Temporary Vision Loss

Any vision loss that does occur will usually return with in a day or two, but the greater the exposure to the UV rays, the worse the damage that is done.

How Is Snow Blindness Treated?

There is little to do to treat photokeratitis. Just like a sunburn elsewhere on the body, it eventually heals on its own. There are however, some steps you can take to find relief from the symptoms which include:

  • Stay indoors, in a dark area until the eyes become less sensitive.
  • Wear sunglasses if it helps.
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes.
  • Remove contact lenses.
  • Apply preservative-free artificial tears to add moisture.
  • Use a cold compress to soothe your eyes.
  • Try over-the-counter pain relief or antibiotic eye drops according to your eye doctor’s advice.

If your symptoms worsen or don’t improve within 24 -48 hours, contact your eye doctor immediately.

Tips to Prevent Snow Blindness

Snow blindness is actually very preventable and all it takes is a good pair of sunglasses or sports goggles. Any time you are outside, rain or shine, you should wear 100% UV blocking sunglasses. That’s right, the sun’s powerful UV rays can even penetrate clouds on an overcast day.

If you are involved in sports such as skiing, snowboarding, mountain climbing or water activities consider a pair of wrap-around sunglasses or sports goggles with shields to prevent the rays from entering from above and through the sides. Wearing a hat or helmet with a brim will also help to increase protection.

Whether you are going North, South or somewhere in between, make sure to pack your shades and protect your eyes so you have an eye-safe, fun and enjoyable vacation.

May is Healthy Vision Month

Your eyes are constantly at work for you, playing a vital role as you navigate through each day. As May is healthy vision month, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Know your genes

    While your eyes may be the same color as your father’s eyes, you may have inherited glaucoma from your mother’s side of the family. Your genes are an important factor in your eye health as many eye diseases are known to be hereditary. It’s vital that you know your family’s eye health history. Sharing this information with your eye care practitioner at your next eye exam will help us determine which diseases you’re at risk for so that we can help put you on the right path for prevention or treatment.

  2. Protect your eyes

    Whether it’s strong UV rays from the outdoor sun or hazards in the workplace, there is protective eyewear available suited to the environment you’re in. You should wear sunglasses when you’re outside, sports goggles or glasses during active play and protective goggles to keep dangerous substances found at home or in the workplace from harming your eyes.

  3. Maintain your eye health by eating right

    Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale have proven to be beneficial for your eye health. Flax seeds, fish and fortified eggs that are high in omega 3 fatty acids are also known to aid in maintaining healthy eyes.  Having an overall healthy lifestyle by not smoking, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight has been proven to reduce risk for many eye diseases.

  4. Give them a break

    Your eyes work really hard every day, especially if you are in front of a computer screen. Remember to apply the 20-20-20 rule to prevent eye strain: every 20 minutes look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

  5. Get a dilated eye exam every year

    Be sure to have a dilated eye exam at least once a year. A thorough check is the only way to spot any problems that exist or are developing. Some eye diseases, which cause vision loss if not treated early, have no warning signs at all and can only be detected in this way.

All of these tips will help you keep your sight in check and go a long way in ensuring that you maintain healthy sight your whole life through.