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Home » What's New » Don’t Let Snow Blindness Ruin Your Winter Vacation

Don’t Let Snow Blindness Ruin Your Winter Vacation

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 sun lamps 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 more risky 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.

In an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the CDC has recommended that all routine eye care be deferred until further notice.

For the safety of our patients, our team, and the community, P.E.C. is complying with that recommendation. We are currently rescheduling annual eye examinations for patients without problems.

Our doctors are continuing to see patients with urgent and emergent eye problems.

Temporarily, our office is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday - Friday.

Please call 804-285-7638 before coming to the office so that we can address your questions and concerns on an individual basis.

If you are picking up contact lenses or eyewear, we would be happy to bring them to your car. We can also mail your contact lens supply without shipping charges.

After business hours, if you have an eye emergency, please call 804-205-7628 to speak to one of our doctors.

Stay safe. We very much look forward to seeing you in the future.

Patterson Eye Clinic