Nov 19, 2018 12:00 AM


Sunglasses are everywhere in the summer. You wouldn’t think of leaving the house without them. But in the winter you may not think to throw them in your bag before heading out the door. That’s a mistake. “UV radiation is present in the winter as well as the summer,” said Jean Tabin, MD, an ophthalmologist with University of Utah Health. “It can be stronger and intensified as it reflects off the snow.”

Snow can reflect up more than 80% of the UV rays that hit it. When those rays hit the eye they can cause a condition called “snow blindness” – though its proper name is photokeratitis. Essentially this is sunburn of the cornea. Symptoms of snow blindness include eye pain, a burning sensation in the eye, sensitivity to light, blurry vision, and seeing halos around light sources. “The symptoms may develop several hours after the burn occurs,” said Tabin. “Luckily, they are temporary and should subside in a day or two.”

If you suffer snow blindness the best thing to do is 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 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,” said Tabin. “You don’t want to risk long term damage.”

The best way to protect against snow blindness is to protect your eyes with proper sunglasses. It doesn’t necessarily matter how dark they are, as long as they block 99% of the sun’s UV rays. They should be worn even if it is overcast as UV rays can penetrate clouds.  “Bigger ones are better in the winter,” said Tabin. “Wearing goggles or sunglasses that wrap around will give you the most protection.”

skiing sunglasses winter

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