A person in a blue coat skiing down a hill

Winter eye health and protection

A man and a woman outside in the snow smiling

Anyone who has watched the winter Olympics understands the necessity for sunglasses even on the coldest, shortest day of the year. Snow can be blindingly reflective— sometimes literally.

And the cold, while it diminishes the sun's heat, doesn't reduce the sun's glare or potential damage to the eyes. In fact, the winter sun may actually be more harmful to our eyes than the summer sun since it sits lower in the winter sky and at a different angle that may expose us to more ultraviolet rays and glare.1

Don't let yourself get caught off guard this winter with one of the following common wintertime vision issues:

orange sun icon

Medically known as photokeratitis, snow blindness is similar to a sunburned cornea. It results from unprotected exposure to sunlight reflecting off of the ice, snow and water, particularly at high elevations where the air is thinner2. To prevent snow blindness, wear eye protection, especially when skiing.

orange snowflake icon

Another cause of snow blindness, glare is caused by horizontal light waves that reflect off of surfaces and strike our eyes at a similar angle.3 Polarized lens are the go-to source of eye protection for reducing glare, but be sure the lenses also carry 100 percent UV protection to protect against damaging rays.

orange eye drop icon

Cold winds, along with the dry heat indoors, cause the moisture in our eyes to evaporate too quickly. Our tear glands then can't keep up replacing the moisture.4 This can be more than a discomfort—severe drying of the corneal surface may also lead to snow blindness.5 Use eye drops to ease discomfort and wear wraparound sunglasses even on overcast days, as they will help shield your eyes from harsh winds and prevent watery reflex tears that do not keep the eyes hydrated.6

orange eye icon

Your corneas can freeze when exposed to extreme cold temperatures and high winds. To treat, place a warm compress (or hand) over the affected eye. After thawing, eyes should be completely covered with patches for 24 to 48 hours. In most cases, normal vision will return.

orange sunglasses icon

Glasses can fog up, particularly when you wear a scarf that channels your warm moist breath upwards toward your eyes. Here are some tips to avoid this issue:

  • Ask your eye doctor about anti-fog lenses.
  • Select frames that leave more room for circulation.
  • Wear a headband during physical activity to soak up sweat and reduce condensation.
  • Clean the inside of your lenses with a mild detergent such as Dawn® or baby shampoo.
  • Use a commercial anti-fogging spray.
orange goggles icon

Hockey is a fun and action-packed sport, but it's caused some horrific eye injuries, including eye loss.

  • Playing pickup hockey? Wear a full cage or full shield. At the very least, wear a visor.
  • Sport-specific protective eyewear should be properly fitted by an eye care professional.
  • Protective eyewear with polycarbonate lenses are recommended for sports that have a high risk for eye injuries.

SNOW BLINDNESS

orange sun icon

Medically known as photokeratitis, snow blindness is similar to a sunburned cornea. It results from unprotected exposure to sunlight reflecting off of the ice, snow and water, particularly at high elevations where the air is thinner2. To prevent snow blindness, wear eye protection, especially when skiing.

SNOW GLARE

orange snowflakes icon

Another cause of snow blindness, glare is caused by horizontal light waves that reflect off of surfaces and strike our eyes at a similar angle.3 Polarized lens are the go-to source of eye protection for reducing glare, but be sure the lenses also carry 100 percent UV protection to protect against damaging rays.

DRY EYES

orange eye drop icon

Cold winds, along with the dry heat indoors, cause the moisture in our eyes to evaporate too quickly. Our tear glands then can't keep up replacing the moisture.4 This can be more than a discomfort—severe drying of the corneal surface may also lead to snow blindness.5 Use eye drops to ease discomfort and wear wraparound sunglasses even on overcast days, as they will help shield your eyes from harsh winds and prevent watery reflex tears that do not keep the eyes hydrated.6

FROZEN CORNEAS

orange eye icon

Your corneas can freeze when exposed to extreme cold temperatures and high winds. To treat, place a warm compress (or hand) over the affected eye. After thawing, eyes should be completely covered with patches for 24 to 48 hours. In most cases, normal vision will return.

FOGGY LENSES

orange sunglasses icon

Glasses can fog up, particularly when you wear a scarf that channels your warm moist breath upwards toward your eyes. Here are some tips to avoid this issue:

  • Ask your eye doctor about anti-fog lenses.
  • Select frames that leave more room for circulation.
  • Wear a headband during physical activity to soak up sweat and reduce condensation.
  • Clean the inside of your lenses with a mild detergent such as Dawn® or baby shampoo.
  • Use a commercial anti-fogging spray.

SPORTING CHANCE

orange goggles icon

Hockey is a fun and action-packed sport, but it's caused some horrific eye injuries, including eye loss.

  • Playing pickup hockey? Wear a full cage or full shield. At the very least, wear a visor.
  • Sport-specific protective eyewear should be properly fitted by an eye care professional.
  • Protective eyewear with polycarbonate lenses are recommended for sports that have a high risk for eye injuries.

So while you're piling on that extra fleece, scarf and pair of mittens, be sure to grab something to cover up your eyes as well. Also, be sure to grab the right sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection, polarization and strong, polycarbonate lenses. With so many options out there, here are some examples to help you protect your eyes this winter in style:

A pair of black goggles with a picture of the snow and mountains reflected in the lenses.

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Three men wearing sunglasses outside
A woman wearing a helmet and goggles outside

1. “Protecting Your Eyes During the Winter,“ Rebuild Your Vision, http://www.rebuildyourvision.com/blog/sunglasses/protecting-your-eyes-during-the-winter/

2. “What Is Photokeratitis (Including Snow Blindness)“ EyeSmart, http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/diseases/photokeratitis-including-snow-blindness/

3. “Let the Sunshine In, but Not the Harmful Rays,“ by Lesley Alderman, The New York Times, Jan. 14, 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/01/15/health/15patient.html

4. “Dry, Sticky Eyes During Winter?: 8 Tips to Get Through It!“ All About Dry Eye, Jan. 15, 2013http://allaboutdryeye.com/2013/01/15/dry-sticky-eyes-during-winter-8-tips-to-get-through-it/#sthash.BswUNQ7B.dpuf

5. What Is Photokeratitis (Including Snow Blindness)“ EyeSmart, http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/diseases/photokeratitis-including-snow-blindness/

6. “Dry, Sticky Eyes During Winter?: 8 Tips to Get Through It!“ All About Dry Eye, Jan. 15, 2013http://allaboutdryeye.com/2013/01/15/dry-sticky-eyes-during-winter-8-tips-to-get-through-it/#sthash.BswUNQ7B.dpuf