Hitting the slopes? Be prepared for snow blindness.

Courtesy of kasiat on Flickr.

Courtesy of kasiat on Flickr.

Tis’ the season to go skiing and snowboarding.  Ski resorts all over the state are opening this month.  It is a well-known fact that spending time outdoors is healthy for not only your body, but your eyes too.  So get ready, get set, and go!  But before you swish down the mountain, ask yourself if you have taken the necessary steps in protecting your eyes from developing snow blindness – a specific form of something called Photokeratitis or Ultraviolet Keratitis.

Snow blindness can be thought of as a really bad sunburn of your eyes (cornea and conjunctiva).  It is caused by exposure of your unprotected eyes to natural sunlight that is reflected off of the snow or ice.  With just the right mix of high altitude and freshly packed snow, your eyes may be subjected to as much as 80% of UV radiation damage in a very short period of time.

After exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, the white part of your eyes (conjunctiva) may look extremely red and the clear covering of your eyes (cornea) may take on a glassy appearance.

Overall, your eyes will not be feeling too great.  With every blink, you may experience unrelenting pain, intense tearing, sandy and gritty feeling, eyelid twitching, discomfort with bright lights and a natural tendency to want to blink more rapidly or shut your eyes tight.  Your vision may be reduced to varying degrees.

The best way to prevent snow blindness is to wear UV-blocking sunglasses or goggles that only allow a certain amount of visible light through. Also, remember to don that protective eyewear whether it is a sunny or a gloomy, overcast day – UV rays can reach your eyes under any condition.

Courtesy of tk-link on Flickr

Courtesy of tk-link on Flickr.

In the event that you forget to bring your sunglasses or you lose them on the way down the slopes and sustain subsequent sun damage to your eyes, your friendly optometrist can promptly treat your symptoms and provide comfort and relief.

While snow blindness is a one form of Photokeratitis,  there are also other forms of which you should be aware, including artificial lights from suntanning beds, electric sparks, halogen desk lamps, flood lights, and arc welding (welder’s flash, arc eye, flash burn) just to name a few.  The prevention is the same.  Wear your UV-blocking sunglasses or goggles to not only look stylin’, but to preserve the health of your eyes and sight.

See you on the slopes!

~Judy Tong, OD, FAAO, FAAO
California Optometric Association
http://www.coavision.org

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Dry Eye Disease

If you ever have stinging, burning, gritty or sandy sensation, excessive tearing or itchy eyes, you may have symptoms of dry eye disease.

Dry eye disease is a condition where you don’t have enough tears or have poor quality tears to lubricate and nourish the eye. Tears maintain the health of the front surface of the eye and provide good vision. Dry eye disease is a common and often chronic problem, particularly in older adults. Advanced dry eyes may damage the front surface of the eye and impair vision.

The front surface of the eye is called the cornea. With each blink of the eyelids, tears are spread across the front surface of the eye. Tears are produced by several glands in and around the eyes. The tear film is composed of nutrients, electrolytes, proteins and lubricants. Tears provide lubrication, reduce the risk of eye infection, clear the eye of foreign matter, and keep the surface of the eyes intact and clear. Tears drain from the eyes into small drainage ducts called puncta in the corners of the eyelids, which drain in the back of the nose.

Courtesy of Clearly Ambiguous on Flickr

Courtesy of Clearly Ambiguous on Flickr

If there are any irregularities in the tear film, symptoms of dry eye may manifest. Dry eye disease may limit daily activities including reading, driving, working on the computer or wearing contact lenses.

Many different factors cause dry eye. These are some of the most common:

1) Hormones: Dry eye disease is more common in people 50 years old or older. Hormonal changes that are common in women experiencing menopause can cause dry eye.

2) Systemic diseases: Other systemic diseases including diabetes, glaucoma, Sjogren’s syndrome, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can exacerbate the symptoms of dry eye.

3) Medications: Medications including antihistamines, hormonal replacement therapy and androgen therapy may contribute to dry eyes.

4) The environment: Environmental factors such as pollen or allergies, working on the computer or contact lens wear can make dry eyes worse.

Dry eye disease is diagnosed by patient history. In diagnosing dry eye disease, your doctor of optometry will evaluate the symptoms, general health problems, medications or environmental factors that contribute to dry eye disease. Your doctor will perform an external examination of the eyes including the eyelid structure and blink dynamics. Your doctor will evaluate the eyelids, cornea and conjunctiva is performed using bright light and magnification. Measurement of the quantity and quality of tears is assessed for any abnormalities. From this information, your doctor of optometry can determine if you have dry eyes and advise you on treatment options.

Treatments for dry eyes include:

  • over the counter artificial tears,
  • punctal plugs (small plastic pieces that close the ducts that drain tears out of the eyes),
  • eyelid hygiene,
  • dietary supplementation,
  • or a prescription eyedrop called Restasis (cyclosporine 0.05%).

If you experience any of theses symptoms, contact your doctor of optometry and ask for a dry eye evaluation.

~ Melissa Barnett, OD, FAAO