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Beware of “Snow Blindness” This Winter

In venturing out in snowy weather, it is important to recognize the importance of protecting the eyes from increased risks of damage related to sun exposure. Although eye protection from the sun is important year round, wintry conditions can pose special risks.  One of these is the development of photokeratitis, a painful eye condition that occurs when the eye is exposed to invisible rays of energy known as ultraviolet (UV) rays, from the sun or a manmade source. A common form of this condition is snow blindness caused by UV rays reflected off ice and snow. “Snow blindness may also refer to freezing of the cornea’s surface, as well as severe drying of the corneal surface due to extremely dry air.” Winter activities like skiing and snowmobiling are commonly associated with the condition. Some symptoms are pain, redness, blurriness, tearing, and headache, to name a few. Since photokeratitis and snow blindness generally go away on their own, treatment usually focuses on “making you feel better as your eyes heal.” Eye protection that blocks UV radiation can prevent photokeratitis. This includes sunglasses or snow goggles that absorb 99 percent or more of the sun’s UV rays or welding helmets. For additional details, read the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) article covering What is Photokeratitis–Including Snow Blindness?