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What Is Snow Blindness & How Can You Prevent It?

Bright sun and blue skies make perfect “bluebird” days for skiing, boarding, hiking, or just being out in the snow. But if you’re not wearing UV-blocking sunglasses in conditions where the sun’s rays reflect off snow, you could be headed for a painful case of snow blindness.

What Is Snow Blindness?

Snow blindness or sunburned eyes—also known as photokeratitis (“photo” for light and “keratitis” for inflammation of the cornea)—can sneak up on you. As with sunburned skin, by the time you notice the symptoms of snow blindness, you've already been out in the sun too long.

The same precaution applies when the sun reflects off water or sand, emphasizing the importance of protecting your eyes in various outdoor environments.

“People don’t need to suffer from snow blindness, as it’s easily preventable,” says Jean Tabin, MD, an ophthalmologist at the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah. “Luckily, it’s temporary, and the symptoms should subside in a day or two.”

Here’s what you should know about snow blindness:

Snow Blindness Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Eye pain
  • Burning or gritty sensation in the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurry vision
  • Seeing halos around light sources

Your eyes and eyelids may swell, and you could get a headache.

How to Treat Snow Blindness

  • Give your eyes a rest.
  • Stay indoors and wear sunglasses to reduce the amount of light exposure.
  • If you wear contacts, take them out.
  • Use preservative-free artificial tears to keep your eyes moist—think of it like using aloe vera for sunburn on your skin.
  • Whatever you do, don't rub your eyes. This will only worsen the irritation.
“If symptoms are severe, it may be best to see an ophthalmologist. You don't want to risk long-term damage.”
Jean Tabin, MD John A. Moran Eye Center

How to Prevent Snow Blindness

The best way to protect against snow blindness is to protect your eyes with sunglasses or snow goggles. It doesn't necessarily matter how dark they are as long as they block 99 percent of the sun’s UV rays.

"Bigger sunglasses are best," Tabin notes. "Wearing goggles or sunglasses that wrap around will give you the most protection."

Don’t ditch your sunglasses if you’re outside on a cloudy day—any time of year. Although the sun’s glare is less noticeable on overcast days, UV rays still penetrate the clouds and can cause damage.