Despite being painful and having temporary vision loss, snow blindness is totally preventable. This condition is caused by overexposure to the UV rays from the sun. Photokeratitis is the medical term for snow blindness.
Basically, snow blindness is a sunburned eye or more specifically, a sunburned cornea. Usually, by the time you feel any symptoms of snow blindness, you have already been under the sun for too long just like what happens in a sunburn.
Snow Blindness Does Not Literally Require Snow
The term “snow blindness” has only become popular because of snow being highly reflective of ultraviolet radiation. Snow can reflect more than 80% of the UV rays. Another thing, snowboarding and skiing are usually done at high altitudes where the UV rays of the sun hit stronger. However, a sunburned cornea can still occur in the absence of snow because pavements, water, and sand are also highly reflective of UV rays.
Snow blindness can cause temporary vision loss and burning eyes for 24-48 hours after spending about a day under the sun. Aside from the sun, man-made UV rays can also cause snow blindness or photokeratitis such as a welder’s torch, sun lamps, and tanning booths. Though this injury is more commonly known as “flash burn” of the cornea.
Snow Blindness Symptoms
Snow blindness usually has delayed symptoms which include:
- Burning, red, and painful eyes
- A gritty feeling or feeling like of a foreign object in the eye
- Sensitivity to light
- Swollen eyelids
- Watery eyes
- Glare and halos around lights
- Blurry vision
Snow Blindness Treatment And Relief
The minor symptoms of sunburned eyes usually resolve on their own without medical treatment after a day or two. Avoid wearing contact lenses until your eye is completely healed. It is best to keep eyes well-moistened with artificial tears to relieve pain and discomfort.
For additional relief, stay indoors, wear sunglasses when going outside, and use over-the-counter pain relievers but be careful of overdosing and allergic reactions.
Never rub your eyes while they are still healing. You could place a cool, dampened cloth over closed eyelids for added comfort. If symptoms worsen or persist for more than a day or two, contact your doctor immediately.
Preventing Snow Blindness
It is very easy to prevent snow blindness. It is as easy as wearing sunglasses that can block 100% of the UV rays, closely fitting, and can protect the whole eyes.
Sun-sensitive photochromic lenses are an even more convenient choice of prevention. Note that UV rays can penetrate clouds which makes it risky to stay outdoors without protective eyewear even on a cloudy day.
For optimal protection, opt for snow goggles or sports goggles when doing activities under the sun. These contain side shields and a soft rubber flange that can completely block the sunlight from penetrating your eyes from the sides, above, and below.