How Much do You Know about Snow Blindness?

Visual challenges take many forms, some causing 20/200 vision while others less detrimental to eye health. One problem that can lead to visual challenges is snow blindness, however it remains relatively unknown.

What is Snow Blindness?

Photokeratitis, often referred to as snow blindness, occurs if the eyes have been overexposed to ultraviolet light. The result of that UV light is very similar to that of sunburn, but because it affects the cornea of the eyes, leads to a temporary loss of vision.

While the name describes the most common cause of this eye health issue, you can get snow blindness in a number of ways. Being out on a boat and looking out over the ocean in a sunny environment, or sitting on white sand beaches can do the same thing. Not only can this be an issue without snow, but you don’t always need the sun either, a welder’s torch, sun lamps or a tanning booth can all affect vision health in a similar way.

Snow blindness symptoms include:

  • Eye Pain
  • Burning in the Eyes
  • Feeling like there is sand or grit in the eye
  • Redness to the Eyes
  • Light Sensitivity
  • Eyes Watering Constantly
  • Blurry Vision
  • Swelling to the eye and eye area
  • Headaches
  • Glare or Halos visible around light sources

snow blindness symptoms

As with sunburn to the skin, if you experience the symptoms, it is because the damage has already been done. The milder symptoms are definite warning though, and should be a cue to use protective eyewear, the longer your eyes are subject to the UV exposure, the more severe the symptoms will become.

In general, snow blindness lasts for two to three days, beginning with eye pain, often a burning feeling, and a sense that something is in the eye, like grit or sand. Vision fades leaving partial or complete vision loss for this period. While disorienting, knowing this is a temporary situation does help, but the patient will need support until their vision returns.

Can Snow Blindness Lead to Legal Blindness?

Snow blindness itself is not permanent and will heal in a couple of days, however care must be taken if you suffer from Photokeratitis, as it leaves the cornea and eye area vulnerable. Excessive rubbing can lead to infection, causing eye disease infections that can have permanent impact on your eye health.

Of course, with any type of vision loss, there is concern, but knowing how to treat snow blindness and understanding what is happening can be a big help as you deal with these visual challenges. In general, snow blindness will heal itself, although that period of vision loss is disorientating, and the painful nature of the injury often needs addressing too. Eye drops or over the counter pain relief can help deal with the pain aspect, but the visual challenges simply require time.

can snow blindness lead to legal blindnessIf you do suffer from Photokeratitis, remove any contact lenses immediately, stay inside to avoid sunlight, and wear vision protection, such as UV resistant eyewear. As mentioned, preventing eye disease is crucial, so avoid rubbing the eyes as they heal.

In the era of advanced technology, individuals facing visual impairment due to conditions like snow blindness can still lead independent lives with the aid of assistive tools such as electronic visual aids. These technological innovations significantly enhance adaptability to daily activities for those with compromised vision. However, despite the assistance from these advancements, challenges in daily life may persist. Therefore, prioritizing preventive measures becomes paramount.

While addressing and treating existing visual impairments, it is crucial to emphasize proactive steps in preventing conditions like snow blindness to safeguard vision. By leveraging the power of technology and individual efforts, we can collectively contribute to creating a society that is more inclusive and supportive, ensuring everyone enjoys a clear and healthy visual experience.

Risk Management for Snow Blindness

As you can imagine, the most common environment that people contract snow blindness is when skiing. As we have mentioned, glare from the sea or white sand, or even man-made UV sources such as welding torches and tanning booths can be a source of snow blindness too, but the snow itself presents the most danger.

The reason is that snow is one of the best reflectors of UV rays we know of. With a combination of bright sun and compacted clean snow, over 80% of the UV rays hitting the snow can be reflected back into the eyes of anyone looking at it. This would be dangerous enough at sea level, however anyone skiing is usually at much higher altitude, and here the UV rays are even stronger. The result is a dangerous environment for skiers, snowboarders, mountain climbers and adventurers who spend lots of time on the snow.

Risk Management for Snow BlindnessWhile not as bad as snow, water and sand reflect UV too, and like a welding torch or tanning booth, the same snow blindness prevention strategies will work in all these situations. In fact, the way to protect your eye health is so simple, we should all be using it as a matter of course whenever venturing near snow or any source of UV light.

All you have to do is to use protective eyewear. Sunglasses that can block 100% of UV rays will completely protect you from Photokeratitis, but there are specialized options too. For active sports such as skiing or snowboarding, think about using UV resistant snow goggles, which completely cover the eye area and prevent any UV rays from entering the eye to the side or from above or below.

A good in-between option are the tailored sports glasses option. These combine the ease of use and comfort of normal sunglasses, but add a more secure fit, along with wraparound lenses or eye guards, that protect the eye fully including at the sides. They can be found offering 100% UV protection lenses, and make a great choice.

Appropriate glasses for tanning booths and the traditional welding mask do the same job too, while normal eye protection that filters out the UV rays will keep you safe on the beach or the water.

Choosing the right sunglasses

While most sunglasses offer some level of UV protection, to be safe and protect your vision from snow blindness, you need to look a little deeper. We have already discussed the various styles of eye protection to choose from, but for the majority a pair of sports sunglasses with side vision protection are the perfect option.

choose the right eyewear to protect the eyesHowever, it is the lenses that really matter when looking for good sunglasses. What you are looking for is protection ratings that block 99% or more of UV rays. These will keep your eyesight safe on the snow, out on the water or at the beach, however, if you are participating in active sports, there are a couple of other things to consider.

Skiing, snowboarding, sailing and so on are exciting activities, but they also carry a level of risk of falling too. A fall with the wrong glasses on can be worse for your vision than snow blindness, where cracked or broken lenses can leave shards of sharp material embedded in your eyes. That is a fast way to legal blindness and a reliance on vision impairment solutions for life.

If you are enjoying active sports, take the time to seek out UV protective sunglasses with polycarbonate lenses. These don’t cause splinters that can damage your eyesight, keeping you further protected.

While dangerous, painful and extremely uncomfortable, snow blindness is a problem that can be easily avoided. Whether you are heading to the ski slopes, climbing mountains, sailing or spending time at the beach with its white sands, don’t risk your eye health, just choose appropriate protective eyewear.

Even if you think that its just half an hour out on the snow, it really is not worth the risk, put your vision protection on and enjoy your time without worrying about potential issues.

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