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Home » What's New » Sunburned Eyes? Beware of Snow Blindness!

Sunburned Eyes? Beware of Snow Blindness!

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Playing outside in a snowy winter wonderland can be magical. Under clear skies in the sunshine, the soft white landscape becomes just about irresistible, whether at home or travelling on a winter-weather get-away. 

Before you let your children run outside to build the most adorable snowman or fling themselves onto the ski slopes, make sure their eyes are well protected. Sun and snow can be a dangerous combination for both the eyes and skin. 

Sunlight Reflected in the Snow

We all know why we need to wear sunglasses and sunscreen in the summer. Winter, however, can be deceiving. It's an illusion to assume that we are safe from sunburns during the colder season. 

Snow acts as a powerful mirror for sunlight and magnifies the effects of UV rays which would otherwise be absorbed by the ground. As a result, the eyes are exposed to both the UV radiation bouncing back from the snowy carpet and the rays shining down directly from the sun. 

If your family is skiing or snowboarding up in the mountains, you need to be even more careful! UV rays are more powerful at higher altitudes. Another important factor to remember is that ultraviolet radiation penetrates through clouds, so even if the sun is hidden behind them, it can still damage your eyes.

Can I Get Sunburned Eyes?

As you may have already guessed, yes —it is possible to get sunburned eyes. The condition is called snow blindness, or photokeratitis. Although most people do not actually experience permanent vision loss, photokeratitis is usually painful, causes extreme sensitivity to light, and can take up to two weeks to fully heal. 

A single day of playing outside in the snow and being exposed to intensive sun glare can be enough to cause snow blindness— though usually with a delay of several hours following sun exposure. What’s worse, if the eyes are repeatedly sunburned there is a risk of long-term damage. 

Symptoms of Snow Blindness

Just like a typical skin sunburn appears only after having been exposed to the sun’s rays, the same is true for the eyes. One sign of overexposure to UV is a stinging or burning sensation in the eyes, or a feeling of having sand in your eyes after a day spent in the snow. 

When eyes are sunburned, they become highly sensitive to light, making it difficult to be outside. Other symptoms include blurred vision, watery eyes, and swollen eyelids. In rare cases, photokeratitis can even cause temporary vision loss, but it doesn't usually last longer than a day or two.

How Do I Protect My Eyes From Sunburn?

Prevent overexposure to sunlight by wearing sunglasses that absorb at least 95% of ultraviolet radiation when you go outside, no matter what time of year it is. An even more effective solution for winter activities is to strap on a pair of well-fitting UV protective sports eyewear, such as ski goggles. Wrap-around styles are ideal because they stay on even when you're active, and block the sun’s rays from entering your eyes from the sides too. 

For winter sports lovers, there are plenty of good reasons to wear protective eyewear, and what works well in sports can be good for play as well. 

How Can I Treat Sunburned Eyes?

It’s after the fact, and you’re suffering from photokeratitis… now what? Give your eyes a rest. 

  • Stay out of the sun for a few days until the symptoms die down. 
  • You may find it comforting to wear sunglasses even when indoors. 
  • For additional relief, place a cool, damp cloth over the closed eyelids while resting.
  • Don’t wear contact lenses until the eyes return to normal. 
  • Artificial tears can help keep the eyes moistened, soothe discomfort and promote healing. However, it's important to consult an eye doctor before running to the pharmacy, since some eye drops are not well-suited for this condition. You can give us a call at 727-205-0445.

Now that you know the risks and precautions to take, you’re all set to enjoy the winter wonderland! Dr. Christopher Keats at Northwood Vision is happy to help you protect yourself and your family from snow blindness, and offers expert treatment for sunburned eyes. 

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Dear Northwood Vision patient,

COVID-19 has the potential to cause grave harm to many of the citizens in our population. According to Harvard epidemiologist Dr. Mark Lipsitch it is likely that at least between 40-70 % of the population will become infected with COVID-19. This virus is twice as contagious as the flu. About 80 percent will not have severe concerns, but based on the current data, 20% of the infected will become severe or critical, needing some form of hospital care to do well. Currently, about 30 % of those who become classified as severe based on WHO classification, will not survive. These are the unfortunate realities at the moment.

Meanwhile, at Northwood Vision, we want to do as much as possible to minimize this risk, to prevent mortality and long term side effects, while doing our best to provide the services our patients need. We are convinced you care about these same things. (Read more)

Here is what we are asking you to do to make a smaller exposure footprint:

  1. If you have any symptoms of a cold or flu (coughing, fever, difficulty breathing, running nose, etc), please reschedule your appointment for at least one month from now.
  2. Try not to touch any surfaces in the office you do not have to touch.
  3. If you are trying on glasses, DO NOT put the frames back on the shelf. Rather, we will collect them from you for proper cleaning before they are returned to the shelves.
  4. If you are ordering contact lenses, a year supply (and some 6 month supplies) order can be direct shipped to your home at no cost. Please take advantage of this so you don’t have to come into the office more than necessary.
  5. If you do need to come into the office for an adjustment, please call the office at 727-725-5558 when you arrive in your vehicle. We will let you know if there is a wait and will put you on a list so we can call or text you to come therefore minimizing the time you are in the enclosed space of our office.
  6. Please come to your appointment with the least number of people possible to reduce exposure to them and to others at the office.
  7. If you have any loved ones that have been exposed to the virus or certainly if they have symptoms of a respiratory illness, please wear a mask in case you are an asymptomatic carrier, or if possible, wait at least 4 weeks before coming in for non-essential care.

In an effort to protect you, here is what we are doing to help lower your risk:

  1. All surfaces in the office will be cleaned several times per day with antiviral/antibacterial cleaner. Surfaces in the exam room will be cleaned thoroughly in between each patient.
  2. No sick or symptomatic staff will be permitted to work while sick with a known viral respiratory infection or symptoms, or while directly caring for a sick relative/friend.
  3. For your safety, payments can be done ahead of time over the phone if you call ahead. This will decrease the amount of time you are in the store and your exposure risk in our enclosed space.
  4. No glasses frames other patients try on will be put back on display until the frames are cleaned with an antiviral cleanser.
  5. We are actively asking patients to reschedule for 4 weeks later if they have any symptoms themselves or in their family/ social network.
  6. We are giving options for patients to acquire goods by mail rather than coming into the store.
  7. We altering our schedule to decrease the number of patients that might be in the office at the same time to maximize social distancing.
  8. We are practicing frequent hand washing at our office to protect you and each other.
  9. We will ask patients to reschedule if they present to our clinic with a cough or other COVID-19 symptoms.

Thank you for your patience and understanding during this stressful and trying time. Let us all work together to lower risk of the spread so that less people die and less people have permanent side effects from COVID-19. Each of us can do our part. May God bless each of you and keep you well. Thank you for your understanding and care for your fellow humans.

Dr. Christopher K. Keats, OD