Sunny days in the snow – what could be more beautiful. The important thing is to protect your eyes: overexposure to UV rays can make you snow blind. Skiing, snowmobiling and mountain climbing are activities commonly associated with this condition.
Photokeratitis is how doctors describe the term snow blindness. Photo means light and keratitis is the inflammation of the cornea. Snow blindness is the result of the cornea being akin to sunburn. Is a painful eye condition caused by overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays and can happen in a matter of minutes.
Like a sunburn on your skin, photokeratitis is not usually noticed until well after the damage has occurred. Symptoms include: pain, redness, blurriness, tearing, gritty feeling, sensitive to bright light, headache, seeing halos, vision problems. The longer you are exposed to UV rays, the more severe your symptoms will be. However, there is no danger of going blind, as the term snow blindness suggests.
Even though the cornea regenerates itself and symptoms usually subside after one or two days, it’s essential that you see an eye doctor, who can then determine how much the cornea has been affected.
If you wear contact lenses, you have to remove them immediately. For relief, you may try:
- staying indoors avoiding bright light
- placing a cool, damp washcloth over your closed eyes
- keeping eyes well moistened using artificial tears
- taking certain pain relievers as recommended by your ophthalmologist
- avoiding rubbing your eyes as you heal
Preventing snow blindness couldn’t be easier. Simply wear sunglasses that block 100 percent of the sun’s UV rays whenever you are outdoors during daylight. Sun-sensitive photochromic lenses are another option.
For skiing, snowboarding or water sports, invest in quality sunglasses. Wrap sunglasses are a great choice as they offer maximum protection from harmful UV rays, due to their style and close fit.
Konstantinos Tourmouzis, MBBS, BSc
Royal United Hospital, United Kingdom
Scientific Associate of Athens Ophthalmic Day Surgery Unit