Have you ever had a gritty, stinging, burning sensation in your eyes while on holiday in the snow? If so, you may have dry eye.
The half term holidays are fast approaching! Skiing, fondue, a well-earned rest… everything seems perfect, but not so much for your eyes! The winter months can be a challenge for people who suffer from dry eye. The air is dry and cold, which makes it harder to keep your eyes lubricated and hydrated. Factor in the sun and wind on top of this, and the risk of suffering dry eye increases.
How do the wind and sun affect our eyes in the snow?
The wind makes our eyes dry out faster. The tears that protect our cornea evaporate quickly, accentuating the sensation of dry eye. At the same time, when it’s cold, our eyes release more tears in order to insulate themselves from the cold. The problem is that this tear secretion is not normal, and in the long run this can blur our eyesight or damage the cornea.
The sun is dangerous for our eyes at the best of times, but even more so when it’s snowy. The ultraviolet (UV) light reflected by the snow can irritate the ocular surface. It is important to be aware that snow reflects 40–90% of UV radiation and that the UV index increases by 10% with every 1000 metres of altitude. The eyes become hypersensitive to light and a stinging and burning sensation may be felt. Inflammation of the eyes, known as keratitis, may also develop.
Even if the sun isn’t out, UV light passes through clouds, so you need to protect your eyes even when the sky looks cloudy.
This means it essential to wear sunglasses if you want to give your eyes the best possible protection.
How can I choose the best sunglasses?
We’re more likely to think about taking our sunglasses with us when we go on holiday in the summer, but we also need them for the snow. It’s not always easy to choose the right pair, because there are so many on the market.
To protect your eyes as much as possible, we recommend you look at the UV protection rating. You should ideally choose sunglasses with a high rating, for maximum protection.
Babies, young children and people with light-coloured eyes are the most at risk in the sun. They therefore need optimal protection.
You also need to choose the right type of glass, which will depend on how you are using your sunglasses. Opt for category 3 or 4 sunglasses to ensure full protection in the mountains.
Category 4 glasses allow only 3–8% of light to pass through and are reserved for activities in high-exposure conditions. For example, driving while wearing this type of sunglasses is prohibited.
Finally, pay attention to the colour of the glass. Sunglasses may be a fashion accessory, but you need to prioritise the health of your eyes. The darker the glass, the more it will protect your eyes. Yellow and orange shades accentuate relief and contrast. They are recommended only for when it is foggy or at the end of the day.
For more information, visit an optician, who can help you choose the right sunglasses.
How can I protect my eyes in the snow?
- Stay well hydrated: as humidity levels are lower, your eyes will be lacking in water, so make sure you stay well hydrated to compensate for the water lost due to the dry air (around 1.5 to 2 litres of water per day).
- Opt for wrap-around sunglasses to avoid the drying effects of the wind and sun.
- Do not overheat the house when you get back in the evening: a temperature between 19°C and 21°C is sufficient. Turning the heating up too high will dry your eyes out even more.
- Make sure you keep blinking to ensure your tears spread properly over the ocular surface.
- Use eye drops to hydrate your eyes and compensate for the lack of natural tears.
- Avoid wearing contact lenses or limit the duration of use.
For more advice, check out our news item “Dry eye and preventative care“.
IF YOU ARE SUFFERING FROM DRY-EYE ISSUES, PLEASE SEE AN OPHTHALMOLOGIST.