You may think that sunglasses are more important to wear during the summer, but, the truth is, it’s even more important to protect our eyes from the sun during the winter. The snow can reflect as much as 80% of the sun’s rays causing increased glare and even eye disease.

For every 1,000 feet in elevation, we are exposed to 5% more UV light. Here in the Salt Lake Valley the average elevation is about 4,000 feet. Heading up to ski in the Wasatch Mountains, we gain about 6,000 feet in elevation, increasing our UV light exposure by 30%.

Protection from the sun’s UV light rays reduces glare and the need to squint our eyes. It also reduces the risk of eye disease from cataracts, macular degeneration and snow blindness.

Snow blindness is due to short-term, intense exposure to UV light. It is like a sunburn to the cornea of the eye. It can cause pain, irritation, red eyes and blurry vision. Snow blindness usually lasts for 2-3 days, but can be prevented by wearing goggles or sunglasses which reduce UV light exposure by at least 99%.

Certainly, one day on the slopes or sledding with the kids will not cause eye disease. Cataracts and macular degeneration are in large part due to a lifetime of exposure to UV rays. Therefore, the best defense against UV rays is the regular wearing of light protection (sunglasses) during all seasons of the year.

Don’t forget: when you bundle up for the winter, cover up your eyes as well.

By Jeremy P. Gerritsen, OD