Winter Eye Protection: Don’t Get Sunburned Eyes

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Most people remember the importance of having eye protection when they are outside in the bright sun during the summer, but having eye protection during those cloudy and cold winter days are just as important if not more important.

Why do you need eye protection during winter?

Anytime you spend extended periods of time outdoors during the day you should have eye protection. Don’t be fooled, just because the sun isn’t beaming intense heat that doesn’t mean that the UV rays aren’t present. UV rays are all around us, The sun shining on snoweven on cloudy days, UV reflects off of various surfaces and comes at every angle. UV rays are generally the most intense during the times of the day when the sun is at the highest point in the sky, generally between 10 am and 4 pm. 

If you are spending time around snow this winter, it is even more important to have your eyes protected. Unprotected eyes around snow could lead to a painful condition called photokeratitis, or also known as snow blindness. This condition is basically a sunburn to your eyes. How does it happen? Snow and ice reflect as much as 80% of the sun’s UV rays, which means your exposure to UV rays when you are having a fun day around snow is nearly double.

Not only that, if you are spending time in snow that means you are at a higher elevation. At higher elevations, the air is thinner which allows more UV rays to reach the snow surface that you are on, which is why it is very important to keep your eyes protected while spending time around snow.

Even if you do not spend time around snow, if you are outside in the sun you should be doing as much as you can to keep your eyes protected from the harmful UV rays. There has been much research that links the sun’s UV rays to a number of eye conditions, including:

  • Macular Degeneration – This condition is when the center portion of the retina deteriorates. This is one of the leading causes of vision loss in the United States for people over 60. It is thought that UV-A rays accelerate macular degeneration.
  • Cataracts – Your eyes have a crystalline lens that filters out the UV, but exposure to UV over time will cause the lens to turn yellow and become cloudy. Whenever you have cataracts, it can seem as if you are trying to look out of a fogged up glass. This is a treatable condition and your cloudy crystalline lens can be replaced with an artificial lens.
  • Eyelid Cancer – Your eyelids consist of very sensitive tissues that could potentially be damaged with exposure to UV rays. Exposure to UV rays over time could give you a higher risk of developing eyelid cancer.
  • Eye Cancer – While cancers that develop from within the eyeball are rare they do happen from time to time. Overexposure to UV could increase your risk of developing eye cancer.

Your location also factors into the importance of having eye protection. The closer to the equator you are the more intense the UV is due to the shorter distance it has to travel to get to the surface. The ozone layer near the equator is also naturally thinner, therefore less UV is being absorbed by it.

UV isn’t the only thing that your eyes need protecting from during the winter. The air during winter can also be quite irritating to your eyes. Cold and dry air blowing at your face could cause your eyes to dry out and become itchy.

Ways to protect your eyes

Anytime you are outside during the day you should be wearing eye protection, even on those cloudy, cold days.  Follow these simple tips to keep your eyes protected from the harsh UV rays:

  • Wear Sunglasses – Sunglasses are usually the last thing on your mind when it is cold and cloudy outside, but UV rays are present and can get through the clouds. Therefore, whenever you are outside during the day you should always have good and effective sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays.Someone wearing sunglasses in snow
  • Wear Goggles – If you are going to be hitting the slopes, be sure to find a pair of quality goggles that can give you protection from the harsh UV rays that will be reflecting off the snow. Goggles will also give your eyes protection from the temperature as our eyes can get dry and irritated in extremely cold weather.
  • Wear a hooded jacket or a hat – Wearing a wide-brimmed hat or a hooded jacket can keep UV rays as well as dry cold winds off of your face as well as your eyes.
  • Wear Safety Goggles – Eye injuries can happen at any time, If you are outside putting up Christmas lights, or shoveling snow out of your driveway be sure to have the proper eye protection on. If you need impact protection, as well as protection from the elements safety goggles, is the way to go.
  • Eye Drops – If your eyes start drying out, this could potentially be uncomfortable. You should be able to find artificial tears, and other eye drops such as blink at your local retailer to keep your eyes moist.

What to look for when selecting eye protection

If you noticed, when it comes to eye protection during winter, it revolves around having good eyewear to protect your eyes. Whether you are about to spend the day at the slopes, or just spending a day outside, your goggles or sunglasses should have a few basic functions that you should look out for when selecting your eyewear, including:

  • Fit – This is an important one. Your sunglasses or goggles should fit well and not be too small and fit tight, or too big and fit loose. This is especially important if you are wearing your glasses for safety, you do not want your glasses falling off in situations where they need to be protecting you. You should also take into consideration if your eye protection is compatible with a helmet if you are wearing it for winter sports. Another thing is if you currently wear prescription glasses, and you were looking for goggles than be sure to see if they are able to fit over your prescription glasses.
  • UV Protection – Getting eye protection that has 100% UV protection is very important and can prevent you from having painful sunburned eyes. Luckily most quality eyewear comes standard equipped with UV protection, but it doesn’t hurt to double check to make sure your glasses are protecting your eyes. person with snow goggles onIf you are unsure or have doubts about your current eyewear, your local eye care practitioner should be able to check them out for you.
  • Lens Tints – For the lens tints there are a number of colors that you select from but they all depend on what you were planning on using your eyewear for. Darker tints such as gray can keep the bright sunlight out of your eyes, or light tints such as rose to improve contrast on cloudy and overcast days. Some manufacturers make their eyewear with interchangeable lenses which makes it easy for you to be able to swap your lenses for sunny days and overcast days. Photochromic lenses that are adaptive to UV rays and get dark automatically is another option you can consider for lens tints. Mirror-coated lenses can also reflect some of the harsh glare from sunlight.
  • Lens Shape – Whenever you are looking for eyewear the lens shape can be a factor in how well you see when you are using them. For example, for goggles, there are generally two types of lenses. They are either cylindrical, also known as flat, or spherical, also known as rounded. Flat lenses are curved but they curve only from left to right across your face but vertically it is flat. These lenses do work but the flatness of the lenses could cause some distortion. The rounded lenses are curved across left to right as well as up and down. Rounded lenses give you less distortion and better peripheral vision.
  • Anti-Fog – One of the biggest problems for eye protection during the cold winter is fog. There is usually a number of different ways that manufacturers do to combat fog and it could be one or a  combination of features such as, how the glasses or goggles are designed, whether or not there is a coating or treatment to combat fog or some goggles even have ventilation built in or a fan to help ventilate your goggles.

Final Thoughts

There are a  lot of things to consider when you are selecting your eye protection for the winter, but most importantly remember to wear your eye protection anytime you are outside during the day, or if you need eye protection for activities you are participating in. So before you put away those summer sunglasses, remember that sunglasses should be worn year round, even during the winter.

Do you wear eye protection during the winter? I would love to hear from you drop a comment below!




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