Winter Sun Protection for Healthy Eyes

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Blog by Envision Eye Care

Wearing sunglasses in the summer is already a habit for most of us. With the bright summer sun shining most days, it feels normal to walk around with shades on. The rest of the year sunglasses aren’t usually something that feels as commonplace, but that doesn’t make them any less important! There are many reasons to wear sunglasses in the winter, too. In fact, it may be even more important to wear sunglasses in the winter than in the summer!

Why are sunglasses necessary in the winter?

Sun damage to eyes can actually be even more likely in the winter than in the summer, which is something that many don’t expect.

When sunlight shines on the bright white snow the snow acts like a mirror and reflects the UV rays back into your eyes. This reflection can cause even more damage than direct light exposure, meaning that sunglasses are even more essential in the winter.

When it comes to winter sports, the higher the altitude, the more dangerous the UV light can be. Since the atmosphere is thinner at higher altitudes it blocks less of the UV rays. Wearing sunglasses or tinted goggles when skiing offers the most protection against these harmful UV rays.

Winter sun can be more dangerous than summer

A number of factors can explain why, despite having shorter days and colder weather, the winter sun can actually more dangerous to eyes than a summer one.

Changing conditions

When winter mornings start out grey and cloudy it’s likely you might forget your sunglasses at home and be left unprotected when it gets brighter.

Lower sun

With the sun lower in the sky, it remains at eye level for much longer.

Snow reflects more

The WHO has stated that snow reflects about 80% of the sun’s UV rays, compared to the under 10% off grass, dirt, or water.

What is snow blindness

Snow blindness, or photokeratitis, refers to the feeling of temporary blindness you can get when going outside on a bright winter day. The bright white snow all around you offers an abundance of surface area to reflect the suns rays, resulting in a feeling of blindness. You might experience blurry vision, temporary blindness, headaches and traces of colour when something moves in front of you.

While this sensation is generally temporary, it can actually be very dangerous and should be taken seriously. That burning, itchy feeling you might have experienced is actually cells on the top layer of eye being burned off. If exposed for too long, this can actually become permanent.

If your eyes feel irritated for more than a few minutes you should take measures to help them heal like putting in eye drops and taking time away from screens.

Damage can be extensive

The damage from winter sun isn’t limited to snow blindness, though that in itself can be a serious issue. With both short term and permanent problems a possibility, a few other possible concerns might include:

  • Macular degeneration
  • Cataracts
  • Dry eyes
  • Skin cancer of the eyelids or other eye tissue

Protect your eyes

In order to protect your eyes during the winter, there are a few measures you can take. Though wearing sunglasses during the day is the most obvious solution, there are a few other ways you can protect your eyes from potentially long-term damage.

  • Use one-day contacts instead of longer-lasting ones
  • Wear a brimmed hat if outside for an extended period. This can also help protect your skin from UV rays as an added bonus!
  • Eat more fish – the omega-3 fatty acids found in many fish can help improve the quality of your tears and make them evaporate slower. Keeping your eyes moist is a great way to protect them from getting a sunburn.
  • Drink water, not alcohol or caffeine – beverages that dehydrate your body naturally also dry out your eyes
  • Carry eye drops – the cold, dry winds often experienced during the winter can also dry out your eyes. Putting in drops is a quick way to lubricate them as needed.

Protect your eyesight in all seasons

Though you may have already developed a healthy sunglasses habit in the summer, it’s essential to carry this habit through the rest of the seasons as well. Getting regular eye exams can help your optometrist to track any potential issues as they come up, and keep an eye on any existing sun damage you might already have.