Many people think of sunglasses as something they only need to worry about in the hot summer months. When we wake up one morning and see the bright sunlight after a week of cloudy, snowy days the last thing we think of is grabbing our sunglasses. This is one habit that you should try to get into.
As the days grow cold and we pile on the fleece, hats, and mittens, it’s easy to forget about sunglasses, in particular, and eye health in general. But the winter weather brings its own specific eye-care challenges, indoors and out. Whether you’re shredding the slopes or just curled up by the fireplace, protecting your vision will help you have a wonderful winter.
Winter Sun’s Not Wimpy
Don’t be fooled: Even if it’s freezing, you still need to wear your sunglasses. Though the sun may feel less intense than during the summer, in the winter months, the sun sits lower in the sky and at a different angle, so you may actually be exposed to MORE ultraviolet light and glare. The risk can be just as significant on gray, overcast days as on clear, sunny ones.
Many winter days start out gray and cloudy. If you leave the house be sure to take the sunglasses with you as there is a good chance that at some point the sun will make an appearance. Sudden blasts of sunlight are difficult for your eyes to adjust to, and if you’ve left your sunglasses at home, your eyes are unprotected.
Snow Reflects Ultraviolet Rays
Skiers, snowboarders, and other winter-sports lovers should pay particular attention to their eyes, as snow reflects more ultraviolet radiation than any other surface. “People forget the sun is just as bright glinting off snow as it is off the ocean and beach,” says ophthalmologist Anne R. Sumers, M.D. In addition, the higher you are above sea level, the less radiation is filtered. Because of snow’s reflective nature, up to 85 percent of the sun’s UV rays may be reflected upward. Ultraviolet light can contribute to cataract formation and retina problems later in life.
Don’t Fry Your Eyeballs
In fact, the glare of the winter sun is so powerful, it can actually burn your eyes. “Short-term exposure can literally sunburn your eyeballs, inflaming the corneas and injuring the conjunctiva, the tissue that covers the white part of the eye,” notes ophthalmologist Carl May, M.D. “Long-term, repeated exposure without protection can cause cancer of the eyelids, cataracts, or macular degeneration.”
Wind burn can be just as damaging as the sun. Try to ensure that your sunglasses wrap around to protect your eyes from the side as well as the front. These may not be the most fashionable or stylish sunglasses, but they do offer the best choice of eye protection. Seeing the future clearly is better than being seen to be in style for today.
Goggles Are Good
The best way to protect your sight is to wear sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of all UV light – or better yet, ski goggles. Ski goggles are great for many types of outdoor activities since they not only block the sunlight, but also prevent debris and snow from blowing into the eyes.
Appropriate protection should also be worn when shoveling snow, putting up or taking down holiday decorations, or running errands – basically, any activity that takes you outdoors. Anytime your outside the house during the winter you should be wearing eye protection. Driving your car is not an exception! The glare from the sun bouncing off the snow is just as dangerous inside your car.
Harsh Winds, Dry Eyes
The sun is not the only risk to our eyes during the winter. Cool air can dry the mucous membrane lining of the nose and eyes. “Winter’s harsh weather can make it the furthest thing from a wonderland when your eyes are consistently dry and irritated,” says Dr. Craig Wax. Eye drops can help relieve the stinging, itchiness, and redness caused by dry air.
Another way to combat old man winter is to bundle up. Corneal specialist Marguerite McDonald suggests wearing a brimmed hat, wraparound sunglasses, and a hooded jacket or coat. “This will help block the swirling, cold wind from the eyes and prevent the tear film covering the eyes from evaporating.”
Dry eyes can be a problem indoors as well. Heat used during the winter months, especially forced air heating, tends to deplete the air of moisture, irritating eyes. Discomfort can quickly become damaging when you rub your aching eyes so vigorously that you scratch them. Again, eye drops such as artificial tears are easily purchased at your local drug store, and using them a few times a day often solves the problem.
Placing humidifiers throughout the house is another way to find relief. Vaporizers and even boiling water on the stove top can also help to add moisture to the air in your home. It can be difficult to remember that cold temperatures dry thing out more than hot temperatures do.
Allergens can also be an issue in the winter time when your house is closed up. Make sure that the filters on your heaters are changed as directed. If you normally suffer from allergies it may be a good idea to spend a little more and get better filters for your heater. Allergies tend to make your eyes water, feel scratchy, and become red and irritated. Rubbing your eyes can cause even more irritation, so try eye drops or allergy medicine if the irritation becomes severe.
Whatever the weather, good eye health is always in season, so protect your vision!