Snow blindness is akin to a sunburn on your eyeball and is an extreme form of photokeratitis, a burn on the cornea. When sunlight shines on snow, the rays reflect off the white snow and are absorbed by your face, with a portion of that light traveling directly into your eyes. Excessive UV exposure (particularly UVB) can damage the outer cells of the eyeball leading to snow blindness.
Here are 3 good reasons to wear protective eyewear and avoid snow blindness:
- The symptoms: it causes intense pain, excessive tears, eyelid twitching, discomfort from bright light, and constricted pupils.
- The after-effects: it can cause temporary blindness, and in extreme cases may cause chronic irritation and tearing.
- Snow reflects a lot of UV: fresh snow can reflect 80% of UV radiation while a sandy beach will only reflect about 15% of UV radiation.
Preventing Snow Blindness
The best way to prevent snow blindness is to wear 100% UV blocking polarized goggles or sunglasses. These lenses will block high intensity UV light from damaging the tissues in your eyes. Keep these tips in mind:
- Wear your sunglasses or ski goggles at all times outside.
- Wear your sunglasses even if it is cloudy out. UV rays can travel through clouds.
- Choose polarized over standard lenses. They will block more UV rays since only a portion of all light can pass through.
- UV is more intense at higher elevations and the higher the sun is in the sky
Related: Ultraviolet Radiation and How Sunglasses Can Protect You from Its Harmful Effects
Polarized sunglasses often block most UV, but be sure to wear lenses with larger surface area to further reduce the amount of UV that makes it through to your eyes. When it comes to ski goggles, be sure they fit snug on your face so that no light filters in. Any time you are skiing or snowboarding (or spending an extended period on the snow) try to wear goggles to reduce the amount of overall eye exposure to UV.
Treating Snow Blindness
In addition to the above symptoms, other symptoms may include:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Burning sensation in the eyes
- A feeling like sand or grit is in the eye
- Swelling in the eyes
If you suspect that you have snow blindness, there are some basic remedies to soothe the pain and aid the healing process, which can last 48-72 hours. If you normally wear contact lenses, then you will need to take them out while your eyes are inflamed.
- Place cold, damp washcloths on your eyes to ease the pain.
- Use artificial tears (eye drops) to help lubricate and soothe the eyes
- Take over-the-counter NSAIDs to ease the inflammation.
Snow blindness is considered an aggravation, but more than that, it can cause serious damage to the cornea. You don’t want to damage your eyesight, so it is important that you take steps to protect your eyes whenever you will be outside and on the snow. Remember that anytime there is snow on the ground snow blindness can occur, so always wear protection whether the sun is out or not.