How to

14 June 2016

Snow Blindness: Causes, Concerns and Cure

It’s a common warning before embarking on a ski trip or similar, to invest in decent sunglasses or ski goggles. I know, sunglasses may seem like a strange requirement for a winter holiday, but the last thing you want is to become snowblind.

Snow blindness (photokeratitis) is basically sunburn, except in this case the affected area is your eyeballs, specifically the cornea. This, as you can probably imagine, causes severe problems with vision, and can actually occur without any snow being present.

The reason why the condition became known as snow blindness is purely due to the reflective nature of snow. Snow reflects up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays, significantly raising the risk of injury if you don’t protect your eyes, but the same can also happen because of white sand, water or even artificial UV sources such as sun beds. Perhaps another reason why people have been more prone to the condition in snowy areas is that they simply neglect to properly protect themselves from the sun, focusing instead on wrapping up warm.

Photokeratitis is highly unlikely to cause full blindness, but the symptoms are still no laughing matter. These can include a pain or burning sensation in the eyes, sensitivity to light, watery eyes, blurred vision, headaches and swelling. Also, because snow blindness can give the sensation of something being stuck in the eye, sufferers often increase their own discomfort in an effort to relieve this.

Unfortunately, by the time you notice any of these symptoms, the damage is done.

In terms of treatment, there’s not a massive amount you can do, as unhelpful as that may be. The symptoms of snow blindness will typically ease and ultimately disappear on their own after a day or two, with no further medical treatment required. Although there may be a few little things you can do to help it along. Firstly, if you wear contact lenses, don’t until the symptoms have resolved. You should also consider using eye drops or a damp cloth to keep some moisture in your eyes. If you still suffer badly while indoors, wear sunglasses as much as possible.

In terms of avoiding snow blindness, it’s simple if you plan ahead. Invest in a decent pair of wrap-around sunglasses, or goggles may be more suitable for skiers and snowboarders, to protect your eyes from the UV. Make sure you get a proper pair that will block 100% of rays, or they’re somewhat pointless, really.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.