What is Snow Blindness? - First Eye Care North Arlington

What is Snow Blindness?

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UV Rays Threaten Your Eyes No Matter The Time of Year

During the summer, the sun is out far longer than in the fall and winter. The sun’s rays are often more powerful during this time of year, as well. It is incredibly important to take care of your eyes during the summer. However, as the days have gotten shorter and the weather colder, a lot of people feel as though the sun doesn’t pose as big of a threat as it did in the summertime. However, the sun’s UV rays always present a threat to your eyes, no matter the time of year.

One such threat to your eyes during the winter is snow blindness. Snow blindness is a painful eye condition that often leads to a temporary loss of vision. It is caused by overexposure to the sun’s UV rays. Why it is called snow blindness is because snow is a highly reflective surface, reflecting nearly 80% of the UV rays that hit it.

The chance for snow over the winter months is much higher than at any other point in the year. Many people aren’t prepared for nor know about the dangers snow can present to your eyes. First Eye Care North Arlington is here to make sure you have the knowledge necessary to protect your eyes this winter.

What is Photokeratitis? 

As we’ve already stated, snow blindness is a painful eye condition that leads to a temporary loss of vision. The medical term for snow blindness is photokeratitis. The “photo” in the name means light, while “keratitis” refers to the inflammation of the cornea. Snow blindness occurs due to overexposure to the sun’s UV rays.

Essentially, when these rays are reflected off of snow, they give your eyes a sunburn. Just like your skin, your eyes are just as susceptible to sunburns from UV rays. In this instance, the thin surface of your eye, known as your cornea, is what is sunburned. It is important to remember that, like a sunburn, it may take a few hours before your symptoms become noticeable.

Photokeratitis often occurs during the winter months after heavy snowfalls and when people are skiing or mountain climbing. Your eyes are also more susceptible to damage when you are on mountains. The high elevation means that the UV rays are often far stronger than at ground level. The cold, dry air also dries out your eyes, leaving them without moisturization for protection. While photokeratitis is often referred to as snow blindness, the snow isn’t the only way you can sunburn your eyes.

White sands and water often lead to the same effect as snow does, reflecting the majority of the sun’s UV rays back at your eyes.

You also don’t even need sunlight to burn your cornea. Man-made light sources also emit UV rays. Welders are often at the end of such a circumstance, developing a condition called “flash burn.” Tanning booths and sun lamps can also lead to photokeratitis.


Most people who suffer from photokeratitis do not experience their symptoms until sometime after their exposure to the sun, just like sunburned skin. Once these symptoms do occur, you may experience:

  • Pain
  • Burning sensations
  • Redness
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Feeling like something is in your eye
  • Grittiness
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Headaches

While snow blindness can cause vision loss, there is no need to panic. This loss of vision is only temporary and will clear up on its own, typically within a day or two. Your color vision may also be affected, but only temporarily.


The good thing about snow blindness is that the symptoms are never permanent. Once your cornea recovers, your symptoms will often go away on their own over the course of a day or two. You can visit your eye doctor to see if you truly do have photokeratitis, but there is little they can do to help.

The best things you can do for your eyes are protecting them from further contact with UV rays. Stay indoors and always wear sunglasses if you need to go outside.

For those that wear contact lenses, you should immediately remove them once your symptoms become apparent. Do not wear them again until your symptoms have gone away. Continued contact lens use during photokeratitis can aggravate the condition further.

There are ways you can ease the discomfort of your condition, including:

  • Using a cold compress to soothe your eyes
  • Avoiding bright lights
  • Moisturizing your eyes with artificial tears
  • Using pain relievers

If your symptoms do not clear up within a day or two, contact your eye care doctor immediately. Snow blindness should clear up on its own quickly. If the condition worsens, and vision loss continues, you may have another condition, such as:


The best way to deal with snow blindness is to avoid it, which is extremely easy. Your eyes are very sensitive, especially when it comes to UV rays. The sun’s UV rays are very dangerous to your eyes, so it’s important to shield them from these rays at all times. You can do this by:

  • Wearing sunglasses with 100% UV protection
  • Even when the weather is overcast, wear UV protective sunglasses. Snow, water, and sand can all reflect UV rays into your eyes
  • Wearing wide-brimmed hats to keep sun rays from coming in over your sunglasses
  • If you plan on participating in water or snow sports, wear protective eyewear that completely wraps around your eyes, preventing sun rays from hitting your eyes at all angles.

Snow blindness is a painful condition. Not only does it give you pain and discomfort, but it also leads to temporary vision loss. This condition clears up on its own in just a few days, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a condition that should be treated lightly. If you believe you have suffered snow blindness, or your snow blindness symptoms have not gotten better after a couple of days, contact First Eye Care North Arlington to seek further treatment.

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