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Winter Sun's Rays Can Still Be Damaging

Eyes face damage from UV rays reflecting off ice or snow

SATURDAY, Feb. 22, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Winter can be hard on the eyes, especially for people who spend any amount of time outdoors.

Though there are fewer hours of daylight in the winter months, eyes can be easily damaged when the sun's powerful ultraviolet (UV) rays reflect off ice or snow. Skiers are particularly vulnerable, but no one who spends long hours outside is immune.

Photokeratitis, a condition comparable to sunburn, is a particular danger for sun-exposed eyes. Photokeratitis occurs when the sensitive tissues of the eyeball receive too much ultraviolet light. Although the condition usually heals with few complications over time, photokeratitis can be painful and repeated bouts may have lasting effects on vision.

Experts at the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) recommend wearing appropriate eye protection throughout the winter, whether shoveling snow, skiing or simply taking a walk. Even though it's easy to forget sunglasses when the skies are gray, the AOA encourages keeping some form of eye protection handy in case the sun comes out unexpectedly.

Sunglasses that block 80 percent to 90 percent of visible light are recommended for use in all sunny weather conditions, but ski goggles that cover the eyes and the surrounding skin are also effective. The AOA notes that goggles may be best for snowmobilers, as well as for downhill and cross country skiers since they not only block harmful UV rays, but also prevent debris and snow from blowing into the eyes.

More information

Mountain climbers in cold climates also face photokeratitis, also known as snow blindness. Learn more about it at Snow Blindness.

SOURCE: American Osteopathic Association; Snow Blindness
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