Snow Blindness

Snow Blindness: Causes, Picture, Symptoms and Treatment

Snow blindness comes under the subcategory of blindness. Losing vision is the most stressful condition that can affect you physically and psychologically. Snow blindness is also known as photokeratitis. The name may have offered you’re a clue of how you can get the problem. It mostly occurs to people who travel in the high-altitude weather. So, travelers spending time outside in the snowy terrain or snowfield without proper eye protection can get affected by the problem. With simple protective steps, you can prevent the eye problem. Therefore, you need to know the comprehensive details about the complication. It will guide you to take necessary preventive measure while traveling to exotic snow clad locations.

What Is Snow Blindness?

You may have heard about the term sunburned. It can cause a sun rash or sun poisoning. You skin bears the brunt of the harmful rays of the sun. Snow blindness causes you to have sunburned eyes. Hence, it is a unique condition due to the eyes getting exposed to the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. The term snow blindness is a bit misleading. You may think that it can happen only when you travel to the snowy region. But, it is not the case. It can happen with or without snow. The actual term for the disease is photokeratitis. The term photo means light while keratitis refers to the cornea inflammation.

The eyes are the most delicate organs in your body. Exposing the eyes to environmental factors can cause complications. It is especially true for the harmful ultraviolet rays. So, you need to protect your eyes from the sunlight. Failing to do so can result in the sunburned cornea. It is a temporary condition. But, causes severe pain and discomfort. Since snow can reflect the ultraviolet rays more, the condition is often seen with the following people:

  • Snowboarders
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Skiers

It is due to the environmental factors and the close proximity to the sun’s rays. Are you traveling to a snow-covered location? To have a relaxing and safe time, you need to wear protective glasses to avoid the issue in your eyes. Therefore, travel with snow goggles, glacier goggles or sunglasses to block the harmful rays from the sun.

Common Misconception About Snow Blindness

The snow blindness can create misconception in your mind. The problem is not restricted people living in the polar region. Anyone who loves outdoor sports or activities in the snow like snowshoeing, hiking, or skiing can experience the problem. If you are planning to travel, then pack some accessories for your eye protection. It mainly affects people who do not wear any eye protection while going out.

The snow is a good reflector of sunlight. So, people outside the sun are susceptible to the sunlight causing damage. The intense sunlight can cause severe harm in the ice-covered ground. The disease can affect you due to the sun’s rays burning your eye cornea. You may not notice it at first. The intense sun exposure irrespective of the presence of snow or not can result in the issue.

Snow Blindness Causes

The ultraviolet radiation is the main cause of snow blindness. The ultraviolet rays are the form of electromagnetic radiation. It transfers the energy in the form of waves. The natural source of ultraviolet rays is the sun. But, man-made lamps can also produce ultraviolet radiations. The main causes of snow blindness are:

Direct Exposure To Sunlight

The major cause of photokeratitis is the exposure to direct sunlight. The sunlight can reflect off the different platforms like water, sand, ice, and snow. But, the snow has the ability to reflect more than 80% of the sunlight. So, people can get affected by snow blindness in the snowy area. It is also more frequently seen in the spring season.

Solar Eclipse


Viewing partial or complete solar eclipse with the naked eye can cause the issue. The eclipse can produce more ultraviolet radiation than the normal condition. Therefore, viewing the sun without any protective gear can result in the retina to burn. It results in serious eye trauma. For some people, it is so severe that it lasts longer duration than snow blindness. Hospitals record more snow blindness due to the solar eclipse. Hence, it is important to quench the curiosity to view a solar eclipse without compromising on your eye health.

Unnatural Ultraviolet Radiation

Unnatural Ultraviolet Radiation

Unnatural source of ultraviolet radiation can cause snow blindness. It can happen in the following cases:

  • Using tanning booths
  • Exposure from sunlamps
  • Welder’s torch/Flash burn

Many industrial accidents occur due to the failure to wear protective eye gears. It results in snow blindness that causes severe pain.

Environmental Conditions

Though the cases are rare, the environmental conditions can also cause snow blindness. It is due to the cornea becoming extremely frozen or dry. Frigid or adverse air temperature or environmental conditions can lead to the issue. Therefore, you need to take special care of your eye during the adverse climatic conditions.

Symptoms Of Snow Blindness

You can experience severe discomfort with the eye complication. Apart from having problems in our vision for a short time, you can also experience other symptoms. Therefore, the common problems associated with the issue are:

  • Redness in the white area of the eye (sclera)
  • Severe pain in the eye
  • Watery eye
  • Burning sensation in the eye
  • Blurred vision
  • A headache
  • Light sensitivity
  • Swelling of eyes
  • Twitching
  • Constricted pupils
  • Abnormal vision color
  • Persistent feeling of something present in the eyes
  • The sight of glare and halos of light

Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays is not good for your eyes. It can result in the inability to open your eyes or other severe cases. The UV rays can lead to complications like:

Risk Factors Of Snow Blindness

Your lifestyle is the major factor that increases the probability of getting snow blindness. If you love the outdoors, then you need to wear protective accessories. It will keep your eyes safe from the UV rays. People with snow sports interest, beachgoers, water lovers, and working with the welding tools need to maintain caution. Such people are more prone to getting snow blindness. So, it is important to take necessary precautions. The other risk factors that can make you more vulnerable to the issue are:

Climatic Conditions

Climatic Conditions

The environment you live plays a major role in the probability of getting the disease. People living in high altitude or visit such places for vacation are at risk. The air in the region is thin. Hence, the UV radiation is high. The snowy region can also reflect more UV rays. It is observed with evidence in the North Pole and the South Pole regions. Therefore, take necessary precaution.

Eye Color

The iris determines the eye color. The most common eye colors you can see around are black, brown, green, blue, hazel, amber, and gray. Among them, people with light colored eyes are at risk. So, you are more prone to eye problems like snow blindness, melanoma, etc. with the lighter-tone eyes


Certain medications you take to treat the diseases, ailments, or complications in your body can increase the risk. It makes you more susceptible to UV radiation. The properties of some drugs can make you more sensitive to light. The rugs that can trigger the extreme sensitivity are:

  • Antibiotics
  • Acne Medications
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines
  • Diabetic Medication
  • Antihistamines
  • Antidepressants
  • Diuretics
  • Cholesterol medications

Snow Blindness Diagnosis

You can experience swelling of face and eyelids with the snow blindness. It is also accompanied with redness. So, it makes it difficult to open your eyes. Your visual acuity is also affected by the problem. So, it leads to the moderate or mild reduction in the eyesight. You can either seek doctor’s appointment to detect the problem or wait for it to go away.

Eye Examination

Eye Examination

Your doctor can conduct a penlight examination that can reveal the issue. It may show the tearing, swelling conjunctiva over the eye, and redness. The difference between conjunctivitis and snow blindness is the discharge. So, your doctor can check for the conjunctiva under the eyelids. It helps establish the issue.

Advanced Examination

For snow blindness, the cornea appears mildly hazy. The other part of the eye has no issues. The issue affects only the cornea in the eyes.

Snow Blindness Treatment

Snow blindness can cause you immense pain. Only severe damage to the eyes requires medical attention. So, the treatment mostly focuses on alleviating the pain. Other issues can go away after 24-48 hours.

Stay Away From Sunlight

You need to stay away from all the forms of sunlight to prevent the symptoms from worsening. So, it is better to remove yourself from the sun itself and the reflective surface. You need to rest in a dark room. Or you can opt to cover your eyes in dark clothes. Hence, it will help you prevent further damage.

Remove Contact Lens

Remove Contact Lens

If you use contact lens, you need to remove it. Avoid using the lens until you eye heal. You should never rub our eyes as it worsens the issue.

Eye Pads

You need to isolate the injury source to promote healing. So, the effective method is to cover your eyes with the patches. Covering the eyes with the gauze bandages, eye pads, and other improvised material can block the light. It will limit the light from entering your eyes. Creating pads with the gauze of one-inch thickness can avoid movement of eyelids and block light.

Cold Compress

Lie down with a cold, damp facecloth on the eyes. You can also use the ice pack by wrapping the ice cubes in cloth. Hence, it reduces the swelling and irritation.

Moisten Eyes

Moistening the eyes will offer you relief from irritation and pain. So, you can use the preservative-free artificial tears to ease the discomfort.

Eye Drops

Your doctor can prescribe eye drops to alleviate the pain. It also promotes healing. Your ophthalmologist may prescribe an ophthalmic antibiotic solution. The drop consists of sulfacetamide sodium (10%) with gentamicin or methylcellulose. It is the eye drop treatment that can improve your vision after 18 hours. With the medication, the surface of your cornea regenerates within a day or two.

Protective Wear

Protective Wear

You need to keep your eyes safe from the sunlight till you heal. So, you need to wear protective eyewear for some time. It will help you keep the light off inside as well as outside.

Tips To Prevent Snow Blindness

The minor problems must never spoil our fun on vacation. Just take care to pack some extra accessories to keep your eyes safe from the sun. It will help you enjoy the outdoor event in high altitude and snowy covered places.

Use Sunglasses

You need to buy sunglasses that can avoid the harmful sun’s radiation from reaching your eyes. The wrap style or full-coverage sunglasses can help you avoid UV rays from reaching your eyes. It will prevent the sunlight from the reflective surface harm your eyes. Opt for the mirror-coated glasses that does not allow sunlight from entering through the sides. So, the good quality, polarized sunglasses can prevent damage to your eyes.

Wear Glacier Googles

Sometimes you may find it difficult to get the right sunglasses that offers full coverage. In such cases, you can opt for glacier sunglasses or glacier goggles. It looks and fits like sunglasses. But, comes with additional features. It has plastic or other materials attached on the side as well as lower portions to block the sunlight. Unlike the sunglasses, it has more mirrored, polarized lens. So, it is darker than the normal sunglasses. It ensures extra protection for your eyes in the outdoor surroundings.

Snow Goggles

Snow goggles or ski goggles are perfect to protect your eyes in windy, blizzard-like condition. It is the tight fitting glasses that offer complete coverage to your eyes. So, it can withstand the windy condition and keep your eyes completely protected. Always choose mirrored or dark lens for safeguarding your eyes. It is a better choice for traveling for a long time over the snowfield or glacier in the sunny conditions.


Snow blindness is not a permanent condition. Nor does it cause serious complication for your health. It only causes severe discomfort and pain. Therefore, you can avoid the issue completely by taking necessary precaution. Just like you safeguard your skin from the sun rashes with the sunscreen lotion, you need to invest in sunglasses. It will protect your eyes from the UV radiation when you go outside. Remember that even on overcast days, the UV light is dangerous. So, wear the eye protection irrespective of the amount of sunlight present.

Investing in good eye accessories can protect your most delicate organs from the adverse effects of nature. Enjoy the outdoor activities like snowboarding, skiing or hiking in the winter season with the proper eye protection. Shield the eyes from wind, dust, and UV rays with the appropriate glasses to have an exciting time outside.

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