“Snow blindness, also known as photokeratitis, is a painful condition of the cornea that’s similar to a sunburn,” says Adam Jacobson, MD, Chief Resident in the Department of Ophthalmology at Westchester Medical Center, the flagship of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth). “The cornea is designed to absorb a large amount of ultraviolet radiation to minimize damage to other parts of the eye. However, too much ultraviolet light can overwhelm this process and result in painful burns.” In the winter, he adds, those rays reflect off ice and snow in all directions, making it difficult to avoid exposure. Spending time in the snow, especially at high altitudes, without protective eyewear creates risk. Symptoms include pain, redness, blurry vision, sensitivity to light, headaches and excessive tears.
Even though snow blindness can clear up on its own, Dr. Jacobson recommends consulting an ophthalmologist. “Symptoms can be minimized with artificial tears, cool compresses and over-the-counter pain relievers.” To avoid snow blindness, wear sunglasses or snow goggles that block ultraviolet light.