Whatever you are doing this winter, skiing, curling up with a book or working hard to meet deadlines, it is important to be aware of eye problems associated with the harsh winter weather we are currently experiencing.
There are certain conditions that seem to impact eyes more frequently in winter including, dry eyes, outdoor excessive tearing, eye sensitivity to the winter sun and snow blindness with winter sports.
It is therefore important to understand how to protect your eyes to avoid such conditions from materialising this winter.
Excessive reading or screen use with central heating, long hours indoors, exacerbates blepharitis, meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) and dry eyes. Sometimes the eyes are so dry that they water and fill with tears, blurring your vision. Your eyes feel and are inflamed, called Ocular Surface Inflammation (OSI).
You must try to ensure that the humidity levels remain above 55% and that you are sufficiently hydrated, furthermore you need to rest your eyes from screens on a regular basis.
If you are over 60 years, it is not uncommon to get blurry vision in the evenings from dry eyes and you can get relief from both ache and blurred vision by cleaning your eyelids with a micellar eyelid cleaning solution and putting in preservative-free lubricating drops. Your vision should clear instantly.
In the winter months the sun is much lower in the sky, hence the light rays come towards your eyes more horizontally. This can give you glare and make your eyes light sensitive. This is far more of a pressing issue during skiing when you also have all the reflections off the snow.
In such a cold environment with low humidity your eyes easily feel sore as the ocular surface dries out and UV rays come from above, in front and below. Brilliant white snow reflects nearly 80 percent of the sun’s rays, while duller sand reflects only 15 per cent. So, when you go skiing or snowboarding, you significantly increase your UV exposure.
The higher the ski resort’s altitude, the thinner the air, allowing more UV radiation to enter the atmosphere. UV radiation increases by 3 percent for every 1,312 feet in altitude; therefore, in some mountainous regions, exposure may increase by more than 15 per cent.
Furthermore, the risk of eye damage is highest in late winter and early spring when the days get longer and you are out in the fresh air for longer. UV rays are strongest between 10 am and 3 pm, the further south you move the higher the UV rays elevation.
If your eyes are exposed to many hours of unprotected reflected “snow light” they can develop a temporary “snow blindness” which is from a painful central corneal epithelial (outermost cells of the front of the eye) damage.
I know this as I have experienced “snow blindness” in Montreal, Canada after skiing! It was a very painful experience. It is a temporary corneal condition and for me came on at the end of the day after skiing. I had acute symptoms of light sensitivity, profuse eye-watering, redness and the feeling of just wanting to shut both my eyes. Since I was just a medical student at the time I did not know what it was.
I had to go to the emergency eye department at the local hospital for them to make the diagnosis. They were wonderful and so gentle; they examined my eyes on the slit lamp with special fluorescein dye, made the diagnosis, reassured me and gave me a soothing eye patch with special eye drops and ointment. I felt reassured and almost better immediately. The pain subsided within twelve hours, and I was out skiing again within 48 hours, with new good quality ski goggles. The experience had a pivotal influence on me, making me want to become an ophthalmologist as I was so impressed by their gentle care and reassurance.
If you get a painful photophobic eye after a few hours after skiing, especially if you are a contact lens wearer, this could be a corneal problem such as “snow blindness”. If it does not clear up within just a few hours with copious lubricant drops, you must seek medical attention.
The weather in Winter can change drastically, not just from day to day but also from one hour to the next. For instance, you can experience wet, gloomy mornings when you first wake up, and then by afternoon, you might need to close your blinds to prevent glare from the brilliant light beaming directly in your eyes.
Central heating inside, although cosy, will add to your dry eyes, especially if you already tend to dry eyes, blepharitis and meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD).
The recommendations above will help you safeguard and take care of your eyes in the chilly season, whether you’re going away on a skiing vacation this year, staying inside in the warm, or are just out and about in the town or countryside in the UK. We are always available for advice at Clinica London if you are concerned about your eyes in winter.