What is snow blindness?

Winter is here and some parts of India and the world receive snowfall. You must have heard of the term #snowblindness. Curious to know that it really is?

January is the coldest month of the year and there is no denying that! As the snow paints everything in a shade of white, do you fancy a visit to Shimla or Manali to enjoy the beautiful snow? Or maybe you live in a place that is blessed with snowfall every winter.

Of course, it is fun to put on warm clothes and play in the snow and you could also perhaps build a cute snowman!

But when you are around snow, there is something you need to know.

What is snow blindness?

Snow blindness consists of a spectrum of eye related symptoms that include irritation, pain, redness and blurring of vision that starts a few hours after exposure to snow.

What causes snow blindness?

Natural sunlight consists of Ultraviolet (UV) rays. I am sure you must have heard about the harmful effects on UV rays on the skin. Now, along with your skin, these UV rays cause sunburns to your eyes as well.

Snow-covered land becomes a highly reflective surface. The UV light rays from the sun reflecting off the snow come in contact with your eyes causing harm. The medical term for this condition is “photo-keratitis”.

Not just the snow, any highly reflective surface such as a beach with white sand and water can cause symptoms of photo-keratitis.

What are the symptoms of snow blindness?

Unlike the name suggests, the first symptom is not blindness. Your eyes will first experience irritation, redness and watering. There could be mild to severe blurring of vision depending upon the time duration of exposure to UV rays.

Let me list all the symptoms of snow blindness.

  1. Redness
  2. Pain
  3. Watering from you eyes
  4. Gritty feeling in your eyes
  5. Swelling around your eyes
  6. Headache
  7. Blurring of vision
  8. Glare around bright light

These symptoms typically start 6-12 hours after the exposure to snow.

What is the treatment for snow blindness?

Fortunately, this condition often resolves on its own within 2 days as your eyes heal.

You can follow these tips to ensure faster healing.

1. Get indoors

The first thing you must do if you experience these symptoms, is to stop further exposure to UV rays. Move indoors, away from the snow or beach or any place that caused symptoms of photo-keratitis.

2. Cool your eyes

Since snow blindness is caused due to “sunburn” to your eyes, cooling your eyes might be helpful.

Put some ice cubes in a piece of clean towel and apply them gently over closed eyelids. It will soothe your eyes and relieve the swelling. Or you could dip small wads of cotton in cool water and place them over closed eyelids. Cold compress typically helps relieve the symptoms and promotes faster healing.

3. Artificial Tears Eye drops

Lubricating eye drops or artificial tears eye drops contain a compound named carboxymethylcellulose 0.5%. These eye drops have a cooling effect on your eyes.

These are available over the counter and can be used 4-8 times a day depending on the severity of your symptoms.

Remember,

“Do not use any other eye drops without consultation with your eye doctor as it could lead to worsening of symptoms.”

4. Pain relief

The pain caused by snow blindness is usually mild. But if you are experiencing a greater severity of pain, you could take over the counter analgesic pills such as paracetamol to relieve pain as and when needed.

“Use of analgesic eye drops is not recommended as they can delay healing and worsen symptoms.”

Symptoms of snow blindness resolve within 48 hours. But even after 2 days you are still experiencing symptoms, you need to visit your eye doctor and get your eyes examined to rule out other eye diseases.

How to prevent snow blindness?

The best way to keep your eyes safe is to protect them from harmful UV rays.

Avoid being outdoors in the sun especially between 10 am to 4 pm, because the concentration of UV rays is highest during these hours. But if you do need to step out of your house, make sure that you wear protective sunglasses.

You could also wear your hats and scarves to protect your face and eyes from direct UV light exposure.

I hope this article helped you understand snow blindness and the various different ways to treat it. So now you can plan your vacation and enjoy the snow with no worries at all!

Remember, vision is precious, and always take good care of your eyes.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop a comment below or email me at neha.pednekar1489@gmail.com

I’ll meet you in my next blog, till then take care of your eyes and stay healthy.

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