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Combating Winter Glare

Posted on November 30th, 2021

What is winter glare or “snow blindness” and how do you avoid it?

If you don’t think sunglasses are a winter staple, think again. Cold weather can come with glaring eye risks—and we mean that literally.

Many of us Canadians know that snow can sometimes be blindingly reflective. Often, it can feel as if you’re staring directly into the sun. Despite the temperature dipping below 0 degrees during the winter months, snow glare has the very real ability to burn your eyes if they aren’t properly protected.

Too much exposure to the sun’s reflection can lead to photokeratitis, a temporary—though nonetheless painful—eye condition. Simply put, it’s considered an eye sunburn, and it can result in serious irritation and potential vision loss for up to 48 hours.

Read on to find out how to avoid it!

Snow Blindness

Being blinded by the snow is one of the most common winter eye complaints, next to dry eyes. As we explained above, snow blindness, sometimes called snow glare or photokeratitis, results from unprotected exposure to sunlight reflecting off snow or ice.

If there is enough reflected light, Photokeratitis can occur even when it’s overcast. The following surfaces are highly reflective:

  • Water reflects up to 100% of UV rays
  • Snow reflects up to 85% of UV rays
  • Dry sand and concrete reflect up to 25% of UV rays

Symptoms

Snow blindness typically manifests in the following symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Pain in your eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Seeing halos
  • Temporary loss of vision

Beyond temporary symptoms, though, it’s also important to remember that long-term exposure to UV radiation accumulates over time, and may increase your risk of developing cataracts or macular degeneration.

Treatments

If you do experience symptoms of photokeratitis, immediately remove your contact lenses if you wear them. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs to soothe your headache, and place a cold compress (such as a gel pack or Bruder mask) over your eyes for 10 minutes at a time to ease discomfort. You can also try using preservative free artificial tears as a treatment to relieve symptoms.

Typically, symptoms dissipate within a few hours, but if the pain persists, seek medical attention.

Protect Yourself

Photokeratitis can be easily avoided by always wearing proper sunglasses. People who work or spend a great deal of time outdoors should be especially cognizant about sporting shades in the winter months.

A proper pair of sunglasses or snow goggles can block or absorb 99% of dangerous UV rays, and will shield you from headache-inducing light glare. If you wear contact lenses, talk to your doctor about UV-absorbing contact lenses.

Pros of Polarized Lenses

When considering which sunglasses to wear in the winter months, going for oversized lenses is the best option, as they offer the most coverage and protection.

It’s also helpful to wear a pair with polarized lenses, as they significantly reduce light glare and eye strain. Unlike regular lenses, polarization contains a chemical that filters light. Unlikely regular lenses, polarization contains a chemical that only allows light through at specific angles, minimizing glare off of reflective surfaces. While there are many pros to wearing polarized lenses on a daily basis, they are especially useful at protecting against snow glare.

Visit one of our clinics to check out our selection of polarized lenses that will protect your eyes this winter.

Have any questions or concerns about your eyes? Book an appointment with us.