Whether you're hitting the slopes to shred some snow this winter, or simply ambling down rain-soaked footpaths puddle hunting with the kids, it's essential to remember to pack or pocket eye protection to safeguard your eyes from the sun's chilly glare.
According to the Cancer Council, in many parts of Australia UV levels are 3 or above right through the winter months.
Additionally, UV levels are higher in alpine regions than at sea level and snow is particularly reflective, putting ski enthusiasts at increased risk of snow blindness.
"Many Aussies still don't consider sunglasses an essential accessory during the colder months – while sun damage is strongly associated with summertime, rays reflecting off snowy surroundings amplifies UV intensity, doubling exposure levels,” says Luke Arundel, Chief Clinical Officer at Optometry Australia.
What is snow blindness?
Snow blindness, a form of photokeratitis, is caused by UV rays reflected off ice or snow in altitudes where the air is thinner, thus providing less protection from the sun’s intensity.
“Snow blindness affects the surface layer of the cornea — the clear front window of the eye — and the conjunctiva, which is the clear tissue covering the white part of the eye. Like a sunburn on your skin, photokeratitis is not usually noticed until well after the damage has occurred.”
Symptoms of snow blindness include pain, redness, blurriness, tearing, gritty feeling, swelling, sensitivity to bright light, headache, seeing halos and eyelid twitching and, although rare, sufferers can also experience temporary vision loss or colour changes in their vision.
Sunglasses that block or absorb 99 percent or more of UV rays or snow goggles designed to block UV rays will help prevent snow blindness.
Five other ways to protect and promote good eye health in winter
Eat the rainbow
Fill your plate with the colour of in season fruits and vegetables to boost your eye health and encourage vision vitality during winter.
“Consuming foods rich in antioxidants and essential vitamins is important to promoting and maintaining eye and vision health, with the most notable being lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamins A, C and E and beta carotene.”
- Lutein & Zeaxanthin (helps protect eyes from UV rays): broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kale and spinach
- Vitamin A & Beta Carotene (keeps the cornea moist and healthy): sweet potato, carrots and swede
- Vitamin C (reduces the risk of cataract formation): kiwifruit, grapefruit and oranges
- Vitamin E (protects your eyes against damaging free radicals): avocado, sweet potato, spinach, swede and kale
High fives for good hand hygiene
If you’re a contact wearer, it’s especially important to practice good hand hygiene during the winter months when nasty rhino and influenza viruses are at their peak.
“Catching a cold or flu can affect the eyes – they might become irritated, itchy or sore and it’s tempting to rub them. Bacteria from your hands can cause other infections like conjunctivitis or styes.”
Drip, drip drops
Especially useful before venturing outside into the cool, crisp air, lubricating eye drops can be a lifesaver for eyes that feel depleted of moisture.
“Lubricating eye drops act like artificial tears – they keep our eyes feeling fresh and hydrated. They’re great to have on hand throughout the year, but especially during the dry months of winter. Just be sure if you’re a contact wearer to check the suitability of the drops before using.”
Create the ideal climate conditions
While living in your Oodie every day isn't ideal (or maybe it is), blasting heaters and switching on radiators can sap moisture from the air, causing eyes to become dry and irritated.
“Using a dehumidifier in the home can help combat dry air. If it’s bearable, reducing your reverse cycle or ducted system’s temperature to create a cooler atmosphere is also encouraged for happier, healthier eyes.”
Go the H2O
In winter, it’s tempting to take the hot beverage option over a glass of good ol’ water but selecting that cup of coffee, pot of tea or mug of steaming cocoa can dehydrate us further.
“I think we can all agree it’s less of an effort to be sure to drink enough water during summer when we’re hot but, if we don’t prioritise staying hydrated during the winter months, our eyes can suffer as much as the rest of our body – dryness, scratchiness and blurred vision are all common symptoms of dry eyes.”
If you are experiencing changes to your vision or are concerned about your eyesight, you can use our Find an Optometrist search tool to schedule an appointment with your local optometrist today.