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Snow Blindness and Sun Protection

Despite the frigid temperatures, winter can pose some serious sun risks. Reflection off the snow and intense solar exposure can cause temporary blindness. Forgot your sunglasses? That is a serious mistake!

Snow Blindness: What it is

Simply put, snow blindness is a sunburned cornea, the clear surface that covers the front of the eye. This is referred to as photokeratitis in medical circles. This sunburn is caused by over exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays and can be extremely painful and may result in temporary vision loss. The symptoms occur later on, after the damage is already done. Go ahead and scream!

Like your skin, the eye has a layer of epithelial cells that are very sensitive to the sun’s damaging rays. Compounded by the mirroring effects of snow, water and sand, the UV light can actually burn these cells in as little as one hour. That’s your lunch break!

Where it’s found

Water, snow and ice reflect light including the damaging UV light. This is compounded and made drastically more harmful at higher altitudes. The earth’s atmosphere is much thinner at the top of a mountain, allowing the damaging rays sneak through to patrons of the high slopes. This can double your risk for sunburned eyes, compared to being at outside in the summer at a lower altitude.

How can I avoid the burn?

Remember those gigantic sunglasses or goggles that you thought were so obnoxious? The ones with the bright purple mirror coating? Not so funny now… Are they?!

Cover those peepers up! Look for full coverage sun wear that block 100% if UVA, UVB, and UVC rays. Protect your eyes from the wind too. Polarized lenses will block out disabling glare improving your vision. Talk to your Eye Doctor and an Optician about a pair of sunglasses that will provide the ultimate protection for your eyes. Forgot your sunglasses? Makeshift a pair out of cardboard and duct tape. Just remember to cut narrow slits to look through. (Just kidding! But anything will help.)

Do I have “Photokeratitis”?

Oh, you’re going to feel this. Your eyes will feel perfectly normal during your time on the slopes, or watching your kids sled down that giant hill. The pain will be delayed 6-12 hours and probably rear its ugly head at night.

You will probably wake up to:

· Pain

· Tears (Both natural, and because of the pain)

· Gritty eyes that feel like sand is in them

· Swollen eyelids

· Light sensitivity

· Hazy vision

Worst case scenario. If the eyes are exposed long enough, snow blindness can force the optic nerve to stop sensing light. This means you will be temporarily blind. Good news is that the cells on the eye regenerate quickly.


· Remove your contact lenses asap

· Use over the counter artificial tears

· NSAIDS (like ibuprofen) can reduce swelling

· Wrap a towel around a snowball and use as a cold compress

· Stay in a dark room and reduce exposure to bright lights

Your pain should subside in a day and a half and by two days, you will be tearing up that fresh powder again. Shred the gnar.

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