Our culture is well-versed in protecting our eyes from the sun during the summer months. We don hats and sunglasses with abandon, and some of us even have “dog goggles” to protect the eyes of our canine companions. But did you know that winter’s snowy regions pose an even greater risk to your eyes?
If you’re a snowbound Florida resident in the winter, make sure to protect your eyes from snow blindness, dry eye, or UV-related inflammation.
Beware Winter’s Sneaky Snow Blindness
The beautiful ice crystals that comprise snowy winter scapes are prisms that magnify and reflect the sun’s UV rays. As a result, your eyes may have more direct exposure to harmful UV rays in a single hour on the slopes than an entire day outside in the spring or summer. That’s why it’s so important to take precautions.
While acute snow blindness (corneal sunburn) is impossible to ignore (more on that below), overexposure to UV rays can cause cumulative eye damage over the course of your life. Chronic UV light exposure increases your risk of developing:
- Macular degeneration
- Intraocular melanoma
- Skin cancer
- Corneal sunburn
Read UV Protection: Maintain Good Eye Health for more information on that topic.
Eye Protection In Winter Snow Is Key
If you spend any amount of time walking, working, or snow sporting during the winter months, you must protect your eyes with the same diligence you practice during the summer. This means:
Wear sunglasses and snow goggles that offer 100% UV protection
Look for high-quality sunglasses that offer 100% UV protection. While you don’t have to spend hundreds on name-brand options, we also warn against cheap dollar store or gas station versions that may not advertise as accurately as we’d like to hope.
Have any questions about your sunglasses’ or snow goggles’ resistance to UV rays? Then, bring them into your optometrist’s office. We can use our photometer to test their degree of UV resistance, so you’ll know whether you have the winter eye protection you need or whether it’s time to invest in a new pair.
Recognize The Symptoms Of Corneal Sunburn (Snow Blindness)
In the optical realm, snow blindness, or corneal sunburn, is referred to as photokeratitis, or inflammation of the cornea. Your cornea is as susceptible to sunburn as the rest of your skin, but it communicates that discomfort in different ways.
Symptoms of corneal sunburn are:
- A gritty feeling or a feeling that something is in your eye
- Eyes that burn or sting
- Excessive watering
- Redness and irritation
- Extreme light sensitivity
- Blurred vision
- Halos around lights
- Swollen lids and surrounding eye tissue
Take care of your eyes ASAP if you notice any of the above symptoms after a day in the snow. It may mean you don’t have adequate eye protection.
Treating Snow Blindness
Most importantly, you need to get yourself out of the sun and indoors ASAP to prevent future damage.
- Use preservative-free eye drops to soothe and moisten eyes
- Take a nap to rest and give your eyes a break
- Reduce eye strain as much as you can (listen to books instead of reading, listen to music instead of straining your eyes on screens, etc.)
- Wear glasses instead of contacts for at least a few days after symptoms fade
- Use cool compresses to soothe inflamed eye tissues
- Resist the urge to rub irritated eyes
Prevent Other Winter-Related Eye Issues
Snow blindness isn’t the only threat to eyes in cold and dry conditions. This time of year we see higher incidences of dry eyes, too. In order to reduce eye irritation and prevent winter-related eye conditions, we recommend:
Wearing glasses instead of contacts
Contacts have come a long way, but they still create a minor irritant compared with glasses. So give the surface of your eyes a break by donning glasses more often, especially when you’re at home.
Helpful eye protection in winter is artificial tears
The combination of lower humidity, heaters, and fireplaces means the air is pretty dry this time of year. Keep a bottle of preservative-free, artificial tears on hand to moisten and soothe eyes more frequently to provide extra lubrication.
Get plenty of sleep
The days are shorter, and the nights are longer, making this an ideal season to catch up on sleep. Your eyes are part of the whole-body system, and that means your healthy lifestyle choices are linked to their wellbeing.
Read Healthy Sleep Habits Support Vision Care to learn more about the link between healthy lifestyle habits and eye health.
Use a humidifier and turn down the heat
Watch atmospheric humidity levels. If they are on the lower side, consider using a humidifier in your home or office to support your eyes’ natural tear production. Similarly, the more you use heaters the dryer the air will be so keep heaters off when you’re not home or at work, and speak to your HVAC technician about a whole-home humidifier system.
In the summer months, we’re more likely to feel thirsty (actually a sign you’re dehydrated) because we’re hot and may breathe more out of our mouths when participating in summer sports. However, our bodies need the same amount of water (approximately eight, 8-oz glasses per day) regardless of the season. The moisture levels in our eyes are directly dependent on our body’s hydration. So keep your water bottle (or cups of tea) nearby and don’t forget to sip on a regular basis.
Did you have too much fun in the snow? Are you experiencing symptoms of sun blindness? Then, contact Atlantic Eye Institute to schedule an appointment so we can take a look.