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While folks further north in the country may think we have it easy, midwest winters can be harsh. If you’ve lived here for a while, you know the weather can be unpredictable with heavy snow on days calling for light snow, and light snow falling on days that were supposed to be clear! Whether you’re staying here for the winter or going somewhere else with even more snow, you should learn about snow blindness and how to protect yourself from it.

Snow blindness, known to medical professionals as photokeratitis, is the temporary dimming or loss of vision experienced from unprotected exposure to large amounts of UV rays. It’s called snow blindness because this type of overexposure is typically the result of a highly reflective environment, which is true of snow. The combination of snow’s white color and smooth, highly reflective surface creates a great force of strain on your eyes. Other environments that increase your risk of photokeratitis include the beach and bodies of water, especially if they’re smooth and glassy, not choppy with waves.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M EXPERIENCING PHOTOKERATITIS?

If you’re experiencing snow blindness, you’ll probably recognize the symptoms pretty early in their formation. Your eyes will hurt and you’ll have trouble keeping them open without squinting and suffering from vision strain.

Other symptoms include:

  • Eyes are red and watery
  • Eyes feel scratchy and burned (like a sunburn feels on your skin)
  • Vision is blurry
  • Headaches
  • Swelling and puffiness around your eyes

WHAT DO I DO IF I’M SUFFERING FROM SNOW BLINDNESS?

If you don’t have access to protective eyewear, you need to get away from the sunlight immediately. See your eye doctor for treatment, which is usually eyedrops and prescription for treating pain. Photokeratitis usually goes away on its own, so treating the pain should be enough, but your eye doctor will also check for signs of permanent damage and address those accordingly.

At home, lie down with a wet washcloth over your eyes. Avoid rubbing them as this inhibits the healing process. It’s similar to scratching and picking at a fresh sunburn.

HOW DO I PREVENT SNOW BLINDNESS?

Your best option for protection is to use a pair of UV resistant (don’t settle for less than 100 percent UV protection) sunglasses or goggles. Your eyewear should be encompassing, meaning it covers all sides of your eyes, so no light leaks in around your lenses. You should also wear a hat with a wide brim to help protect you from UV rays.

Should you find yourself in an emergency situation in the snow, without any immediate escape from the sunlight, nor protective eyewear, you can craft emergency eye protection with a small handful of resources. Note: this should not be your first choice of protection, but a last resort. 100 percent UV resistant eyewear is the safest choice.

Do you feel like your eyes are affected by photokeratitis or another condition? Would you like to learn more about protection your vision? Contact Silverstein Eye Centers today at (816) 358-3600 or request your appointment online. We can serve you at our convenient location in Independence/Kansas City.

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