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Posted by: Georgia Center for Sight

Skier on a mountain

Have you ever heard of Photokeratitis? Photokeratitis occurs when ultraviolet (UV) rays damage your eye. It is essentially the equivalent to sunburn on your eye. Ouch, right?! This painful eye condition typically occurs when the ultraviolet rays are reflected off sand, water, ice, and snow. It is especially severe in high altitude areas where the air is thinner and unable to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. Now that it is officially winter, it’s prime time to ski in the mountains and experience snow. It’s helpful to be aware of photokeratitis and take preventative measures to avoid it. Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms, how it’s treated, and how to prevent it.

The symptoms of photokeratitis include redness, blurriness, tearing, gritty feeling, swelling, sensitivity to bright light, headache, eyes twitching, seeing halos, small pupils, eyelid twitching, and temporary vision loss. When someone gets photokeratitis, they are damaging the surface cells of their cornea and their conjunctiva. If you aren’t sure what parts of the eye those two things are, the cornea is the clear outer layer at the front of your eye that helps your eye focus light so it can see clearly.  Conjunctiva is the membrane that lines the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye. Unfortunately, cornea cells have significantly denser nerve endings, making photokeratitis extremely painful. A common type of photokeratitis in the winter is called snow blindness. This eye damage occurs when UV rays are reflected off snow and ice and are relatively common when skiing, snowboarding, mountain climbing, and snowmobiling.

If you notice your eyes are red, blurry, swelling, or you experience any of the other symptoms listed above, there are several things you can do to treat your eyes. Fortunately, many cases of photokeratitis and snow blindness can be treated on your own. First things first, if you wear contacts, take them out and keep them out while your eyes are healing. Once your contacts are out, rest in a dark room with your eyes closed for 12 to 48 hours. If you are experiencing discomfort, place a cold washcloth over your eyes and use artificial tears periodically. If you still are in extreme discomfort after several hours of laying in a dark room, call your ophthalmologist and see what pain medications he/she recommends. He/she may even advise you to use eye-drop antibiotics. Be sure not to rub your eyes while they are healing. After a few days of rest and avoiding bright light, your eyes should be better.

Since eye damage sounds pretty miserable, luckily, there are multiple ways to prevent photokeratitis and snow blindness. The best thing to do is not be exposed for long, meaning this winter, try to stay away from gathering around lots of snow and ice for long periods of time. However, if you find yourself engaging in many outdoor winter activities, be sure to wear adequate eye protection. Wear sunglasses that block or absorb 99 percent of UV rays. If you know you will be exposed for an extremely long time, consider putting on a welding helmet. When doing snow activities, sport some snow goggles that are designed to block UV rays. Doing these simple things are critical if you want to protect your eyes.

At Georgia Center for Sight, we want to protect and keep your eyes healthy. We are always giving you tips and advice on how to best treat your eyes. If you would like to talk to one of our ophthalmologists or need your eyes checked out, give your local Georgia Center for Sight office a call or visit our website to schedule an appointment.

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