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 If you live in an area that receives snowfall, you may remember someone in school coming back from a ski trip that didn’t wear sunglasses or goggles on the slopes and ended up with a case of severe snow-blindness or sunburn to their eyes.  Their eyes hurt so bad and were so blurry they couldn’t go back to school for a couple of days.  

We all know how UV light can cause a sunburn to skin.  Well, snow and water are great reflectors of UV light, so that it bounces right up into the face and eyes.    There is more exposure to UV as well at a higher altitude on the mountain.   Without protection, the cornea can develop a “photokeratitis” or corneal inflammation that is extremely painful.  It feels like there are rocks or sand in the eyes.  The cornea becomes covered with lots of micro-blisters that pop open and your eyelid scrapes across those when blinking, causing the foreign body sensation.  Between those and the corneal swelling, the vision can be very blurry.  Depending on various factors, the process of photokeratitis can begin in as quick as 3.5 minutes of UV exposure. (1)   The symptoms are usually delayed, with an average of onset of pain, light sensitivity and tearing after 6-12 hours.

Treatment includes cold, damp compresses or ice packs, non-steroidal and steroid eye drops to reduce the inflammation and pain and possibly antibiotic creams, therapeutic bandage soft contacts or eye patches and oral pain relievers if severe enough.  Typically it will be healed after a few days since the corneal tissue is one of the most fastest growing parts of the body.  Usually, there is no long term damage.  Repeated exposure to UV over your life time can however  lead to early cataracts and possibly macular degeneration.

Prevention is key and very simple.  Wear eye protection in the snow or when on the water!   Polarized sunglasses are ideal to block UV light and improve the vision from the glaring polarized light coming off the snow or water.  There are clear UV blockers in regular eyeglasses too that can block light, much like sunscreen ends up clear on your skin after application.

If you happen to stay too long out on the slopes without eye protection, you CAN come crying to me.   🙂   (But just don’t say I didn’t tell you!)

Courtesy of Dumas Vision Source, PLLC and Dr Tory W. Moore, Optometric Glaucoma Specialist and Diplomate of the American Board of Optometry.    Serving the Dumas, Texas,  Moore County and upper Texas Panhandle area for 23 years.   Call (806) 935-2020 for appointment or visit our optical gallery without an appointment.  Visit our website for more information.  Like our Facebook business page:  Dumas Vision Source  and you can also connect on Twitter @eyedocdumas

Tory Moore, OD  – “A Hometown Eye Doctor You Know and Can Trust!”