During the winter months, your eyes can be at increased risk for injury. Despite the sun spending more time hidden behind clouds and shorter days, vision health can still be at risk due to UV rays. This is also known as snow blindness and many people who live in northern climates are at risk. There is also an increased risk for developing photokeratitis, a condition resulting from exposure to ultraviolet light or man-made sources such as ultraviolet lamps.

A study published in Medicine Journal found an increased incidence of photokeratitis has occurred during the pandemic due to improper and unprotected use of ultraviolet lamps. People often rely on ultraviolet lamps during winter to increase their vitamin D levels and improve mood.

During the winter time, it often occurs while participating in winter sport activities such as skiing or snowboarding, when UV rays reflect off the snow. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, there are several factors that can increase the risk of developing photokeratitis including:

 Wooden snow goggles, c.1850, from the Parks Canada National Collection. Photo courtesy of Parks Canada Agency
● Sun reflecting off snow.

● High UV radiation even on cloudy days.

● Increased UV exposure due to elevation.

● The cold, dry and windy conditions on the ski slopes.

For centuries, the Inuit people of northern Canada, used snow goggles, known as iggaak, carved from ivory, wood, caribou antler, bone, leather or whale bone to provide protection from the sun’s UV rays.

Today, sports enthusiasts use modern snow goggles featuring the latest sun blocking technology to protect their eyes. ECPs are working with their patients to educate and provide the right resources to prevent photokeratitis including helping them better identify the warning signs.

The most common symptoms to watch for, according to the College of Optometrists are:

● Bilateral (if unilateral, suspect corneal or subtarsal foreign body).

● Lid chemosis and redness.

● Conjunctival hyperaemia.

● Epiphora.

● Punctate staining of corneal epithelium with fluorescein (maybe coalescent).

● Mild transitory visual loss.

● Associated skin burns from UV exposure.

Eyecare professionals are using social media to help educate their patients on the importance of protecting their eyes during the winter months. Photokeratitits, dry eye and sports injuries are just some of the messages being shared across various social media platforms, in an effort to reduce the risk and occurrence of eye injury this winter.

College of Optometrists offer a wide range of resources for eyecare providers to make educating their patients easier and more fun. Image via collegeofoptometrists on Instagram.

Opticare Opticians, with locations across the UK, have helped patients better treat and prevent winter eye injury including staying hydrated, getting enough sleep and wearing polarized sunglasses. Image via opticare_opticians on Instagram.

Rivertown Eye Care in Hastings, Minnesota wants patients to know the importance of wearing sunglasses in an effort to prevent winter eye injuries like photokeratitis. Image via rivertowneyecare on Instagram.

Rothesay Optometrists in Rothesay New Brunswick also believe prevention is key, offering tips on how to make the dry winter months more comfortable. Image via rothesayeye on Instagram.

Sight Center of Northwestern Pennsylvania highlights the importance of keeping the face covered during winter and staying hydrated. Image via sightcenternwpa on Instagram.

ViewPointe Vision in West Omaha and LaVista, Nebraska want sports enthusiasts to have a great time on the slopes, wearing the latest eye protection to prevent injury. Image via viewpointevision on Instagram.