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What Is Snow Blindness & How Can You Forget It

What Is Snow Blindness & How Can You Forget It

It may get cold outside, but that doesn’t keep winter warriors from enjoying their favorite outdoor activities. A fresh foot of snow on the slopes begs for you to shred, and if you’re into frozen ice, there’s plenty available for skating. 

Cold weather gear makes your winter activities safe, but the eyes often get the short end of the protection stick. If you’ve put away your sun protective gear until July, you could be placing your eyes at risk of developing winter eye issues, including snow blindness. 

Snow blindness is more than just not being able to see when you step inside from the slopes. It’s a painful eye condition that can lead to permanent damage if you don’t treat it in a timely manner or if you develop it multiple times. 

The Stoggles staff loves a good snow day, and we also know what it takes to keep your eyes safe.

Here’s what you should know about snow blindness, prevention, and how to forget about it this winter. 

A Brief Anatomy Lesson

Don’t worry; this won’t be intense. In order to better understand your eye health, you need to be familiar with a few structures in your eye that can be affected by winter weather. 

  • Conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a thin, clear membrane that covers the whites of your eyes and also covers the insides of your eyelids. The conjunctiva protects your eye but is also easily inflamed. If you get pink eye, for instance, you’ve developed an infection of the conjunctiva.
  • Cornea. The cornea is a window located at the front of the eye. It covers the iris, the colored part of your eye, and the pupil, the black dot in the center of your eye. The cornea protects these structures.
  • Lens. The lens of your eye is located behind your pupil. Its purpose is to focus light, similar to a camera lens, and transfer it to the back of the eye where your retina is located. 
  • Retina. The retina is where vision happens. It’s filled with retinal cells that take in the light collected by the lens and send the information to your brain, where it is interpreted as sight.

There are numerous other important structures in your eyes, but these structures are most at risk of damage in the winter. Lucky you, the anatomy lesson is over.

Defining Snow Blindness

You’ve probably grown up hearing ominous warnings from parents and older siblings about the dangers of snow blindness. Similar to the terrifying message that looking directly at the sun would surely blind you, most of us have a healthy respect for light reflected off of freshly fallen snow. 

However, the reality is, snow blindness doesn’t actually cause blindness. Although repetitive occurrences of snow blindness could negatively impact your vision, you won’t lose your sight from a day on the snow without eye protection. You will, however, get some nasty symptoms. 

Photokeratitis

Snow blindness is a form of photokeratitis (or "arc eye"), which is a medical term for what is essentially a sunburn on your eyes.

Your eyes, however, don’t burn like your skin. They have no method of protecting themselves against UV rays, while your skin can darken with melanin in response to sunlight. The portions of the eye that burn with photokeratitis are the conjunctiva and the cornea. 

These two structures that offer protection to the rest of your eyes become inflamed, irritated, and uncomfortable when exposed to UV rays. While the snow may not actually blind you as your mom told you, it will definitely burn your eyes and make it impossible for you to use your ski pass for an additional day. 

How It Happens

Just glancing at the snow without your sunglasses on won’t harm your eyes much. Your eyes will likely begin to water from the sensation. You’ll immediately squint and close them or reach for a pair of shades. If your shades don’t offer ultraviolet protection, however, you could still develop snow blindness, even on overcast days.

UV rays are part of the invisible portion of the light spectrum. There are three types: UVA, UVB, and UVC rays. The most damaging rays, UVC, are filtered out by the earth’s atmosphere. UVA and UVB rays, however, penetrate the atmosphere and can be damaging to the skin and eyes. 

UVB rays are responsible for skin burning, but UVA rays are most notorious for penetrating the eye. Unprotected, UVA rays can cause burns to the cornea and conjunctiva, resulting in photokeratitis. 

Ultraviolet radiation also threatens those who use tanning beds or some sun lamps. Welders, in particular, are prone to welder's flash.

Who’s At Risk?

If you spend time outside during the winter, you’re at risk. Skiing, skating, snowboarding, mountain climbing, and virtually any other outdoor activity that involves the snow, ice, or water can place you at risk of developing snow blindness.

It’s also not limited to the winter months. Summer water activities also place you at risk of developing photokeratitis. Surfer’s Eye is a condition that starts out as photokeratitis but can result in a growth at the back of the eye that can extend to your line of vision. 

Keratitis can also be developed from an underlying infection of the eye or from watching a solar eclipse without protective eyewear. 

What Are Snow Blindness Symptoms?

Winter weather can be irritating to the eyes, but that doesn’t mean you have snow blindness. The hallmarks of snow blindness are:

  • Pain and swelling in and around the eyes.
  • Feeling like something is stuck in your eye or having a sand-like or gritty feeling in your eyes
  • Excessive tearing
  • Blurry vision
  • Light sensitivity (including seeing halos)
  • Headache 
  • Twitching eyes
  • Temporary vision loss (this symptom is rare)

Overall, your eyes are just going to feel completely uncomfortable, rendering you laid up in the lodge until they heal. 

How Is Snow Blindness Treated?

The treatment for snow blindness is time. Normally, snow blindness resolves on its own within a few days. If you’re still having symptoms of snow blindness after three days, you should make an appointment to see your eye doctor to make sure your retina is healthy, and there’s no permanent damage. 

To get relief from symptoms, act quickly. First, make sure to remove your contact lenses if you have any. Then, you can use a cold compress or cold washcloth over your eyes, or over-the-counter pain relievers to help with pain and swelling. Your eye doctor can also prescribe pain-relieving drops, which may be more effective. 

Other Winter Eye Woes

It’s not just snow blindness that can affect your eyes during the winter months. There are numerous factors at play that can cause you to experience eye discomfort. Dry air and cold temperatures can wreak havoc on your eyes. 

Here’s a look at what’s on the winter eye condition smorgasbord:

Dryness

If you find yourself consistently reaching for artificial tears, you could be suffering from dry eyes. Dry eyes are common in winter months due to drier air outdoors and the use of heaters indoors.

Using a humidifier at night while you sleep may help, but wearing the proper eye protection when you’re outside will definitely help keep your eyes protected from dry, cold wind and air.

Watery Eyes

On the other end of the spectrum, some people suffer from watery eyes in the winter months. If you’ve ever been on a bike ride or run when the temps are below 50 degrees, you’ve probably experienced this. 

Watery eyes are usually accompanied by itching and redness. You can get relief by using over-the-counter eye drops or by wearing protective glasses when you know you’ll be outdoors. 

If your eyes tend to water more when you’re inside as opposed to when you’re outside, you could be experiencing allergies.

Allergens

No matter what season we’re in, there’s always something blooming. Although seasonal allergies usually attack the eyes more in the spring and fall, you can definitely experience allergy issues during the winter months. 

Exposure to perennial allergens like dust, mites, or pet dander can bother you regardless of the season. Outdoors, you’ll probably get some relief, but if you spend more time indoors when the weather is cold, your perennial allergies could leave your eyes ravaged with sensitivity. 

Wearing protective glasses indoors can dramatically reduce the number of allergens that reach your eyes. They can also give you the benefit of blue light protection if you’re wearing safety glasses like Stoggles, that have blue-light protection. 

Debris

If you’ve been putting off that home improvement project until the weather cools down, now is the time to get it done. However, sawing, grinding, painting, and even some types of heavy cleaning can expose your eyes to debris that can harm them. 

At best, you’ll get an uncomfortable eye injury that leaves your eye irritated and sensitive. At worst, you could lose your sight completely. 

Home improvement isn’t the only scary circumstance that could place your eyes at risk of debris interference. Outdoor winter sports activities can send shards of ice and snow into your line of vision, which at the very least could cause you to have to take an unnecessary break from your favorite hobbies. 

How To Deal With Snow Blindness (And Everything Else)

The last thing you want to do is worry about your eyes this winter. Instead, pack a pair of safety glasses that go the extra mile. You can get eye protection from snow blindness, cold temps, wind, and debris with one pair of glasses.

Here’s what you’ll need:

UV Protection

It’s more than just shade from the sun. You need lenses with UV protection to keep your eyes protected from UV rays. SunStoggles give you both shade from the sun’s rays and protection against UV rays. Our SunStoggles are made with polycarbonate, which is naturally UV light blocking. 

Side and Top Shields

Your regular sunglasses aren’t the best you can do for complete protection. They leave your eyes vulnerable at the top of the glasses and on the sides. Those gaps could allow allergens, wind, cold, and debris to enter your eye area. 

Side and top shields protect your eyes (and your skin) so you can continue with your activities without fear of risking your vision. 

Impact Resistance

Even if you think you don’t need impact resistance, you do. Your regular eyeglasses and sunglasses aren’t tested for impact resistance. Wearing them while skiing or snowboarding could lead to them breaking and you damaging your eyes. 

Stoggles are certified impact resistant and meet the ANSI Z87.1 standard. It’s the surest way to know the glasses you are wearing won’t fail if you come in contact with a rogue icicle or rock. 

Blue Light Protection

While you’re at it, go ahead and make sure your glasses have blue light protection. Blue light is another form of invisible light that can impact your eyesight. Blue light is emitted from the sun, but also from sources like your phone, tablet, and laptop. Even fluorescent lights and LED televisions emit blue light. 

Your eye can’t properly filter blue light, which means it’s able to travel directly through to your retina. Researchers aren’t quite sure how damaging blue light can be to your retina yet, so it’s essential to protect your eyes, even when you’re indoors on the computer. 

Comfort and Style

Let’s face it: If glasses aren’t comfortable and attractive, you aren’t going to wear them. Stoggles never makes you choose between protection and style. Our glasses are available in different styles and colors that allow you to customize your look to match your ski gear. 

Say C’est La Vie to Snow Blindness

Your favorite winter activities can lead to overexposure to UV rays that could damage your eyes and leave you out of the game. Don’t let it happen.

Protect your eyes from UV rays, cold temperatures, the chilliest winds, and even indoor allergens, by grabbing a pair of the only safety glasses that let you look exceptionally good at staying safe. 

Don't let the high altitudes get you down. Stoggles are the solution for keeping your eyes safe and comfortable in any temperature. 

 

Sources:

What is Photokeratitis — Including Snow Blindness? | American Academy of Ophthalmology 

Common Eye Problems in Winter | Discovery Eye.org 

Eye anatomy and function | About Kids Health 

Pterygium (Surfer's Eye): Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment | WebMD

ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2020: Current Standard for Safety Glasses | ANSI

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