During the summer, many of us are careful about exposure to UV radiation. We slather sunscreen on our skin while at the lake, and shield our eyes from the sun by wearing sunglasses. However, why don't we do the same during winter months? When winter comes around we tend to forget about UV rays because it is cold outside. In recent years, doctors have warned skiers to wear sunscreen while on the slopes to protect their skin from sunburn – but what about our eyes?
Our first instinct when we go out on a winter's day may not be to grab our sunglasses; however, there are a few crucial things you should know about protecting your eyes during the winter months. Shield Your Eyes From the Snow! It may seem strange that looking at snow without proper eye protection can burn your eyes, but it's true! Snow acts as a big mirror for UV radiation. In fact, snow reflects up to 80% of the sun's ultraviolet radiation. On the other hand, sand on the beach only reflects 15% of the sun's rays. Therefore, astonishingly, it is even more important to protect your eyes in the winter. Radiation that is reflected off the snow can actually lead to sunburn on your eyes. This is called photokeratitis, also known as snow blindness. Snow blindness causes pain, swollen eyelids, tearing, redness and temporary loss of vision, and symptoms are often not noticed until 6 to 12 hours after exposure has occurred. Repeated instances of photokeratitis can even cause permanent damage to your cornea. Heading to the slopes for a weekend of skiing? Take care to protect your eyes with a well-fitted pair of sunglasses. Take Care from Wind and Glare Besides the obvious need to protect the eyes from radiation, it is absolutely crucial to protect your eyes from wind and glare. This is especially true for skiers and snowboarders who face high-speed winds while on the mountain. Wind dries up your eyes, leading to irritation and redness, and glare forces your eyes to strain and fatigue as you try your best to see what is ahead of you. Well-fitted sunglasses or goggles with sidebars can help shield your eyes from wind. They also reflect harmful glare so that your eyes can relax. The Altitude Effect If you are at high altitude, the risk of snow blindness increases. The air is thinner at high altitudes, and doesn't filter out as much UV radiation. For every 400 metres of altitude, you get about 3% less natural radiation filtration. If you hike up to Jasper in Alberta (an altitude of 1,062 metres), for example, the sun’s radiation is 8% more intense than at sea level! Even When It's Overcast! Contrary to popular belief, the sun’s radiation passes easily through even the thickest canopy of clouds. It is important to wear proper eye protection even when you can’t see the sun or feel its warmth. While wearing sunglasses during cloudy weather may seem odd, you’re actually doing your eyes a huge favour. Prevention and Treatment Sunburnt eyes take time to heal, and will limit your abilities to see properly for a while. The cornea will heal itself 12 to 48 hours after the initial damage, so make sure you clear your schedule. Additionally, make sure you don’t rub your eyes, as this will cause more irritation and prolong the healing process. If you wear contact lenses, remove them to expose your eyes to moisture in the air. Hold a cool, wet rag over your eyes. Eye drops are also effective in reducing redness, swollen eyelids and itchiness. Make sure that your eyes are never too dry. A good pair of sunglasses can work wonders to protect your eyes from the winter elements. Polarized lenses help reflect and filter most of the sun’s harmful radiation and shield your eyes from wind and glare. Think of your sunglasses as sunscreen for your eyes. Much like sunblock, the lenses will reflect harmful radiation away from your eyes and protect them from damage. Prescription Solutions If you wear prescription glasses or contact lenses, you may want to contact your eye doctor. He or she can help you find the proper pair of prescription sunglasses. This will allow you to maintain corrected vision, as well as protect your eyes throughout your adventures. More specifically, you should choose a pair with a 100% UVA/UVB protection rating. This will ensure that the most harmful rays are completely filtered out. Ask your doctor to if your current sunglasses live up to the task. Protect Yourself This Winter Take care of your eyes this winter. Don't get sidelined by photokeratitis. Get into the habit of grabbing your sunglasses when you go out in the snow. Your eyes will thank you!