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Photokeratitis and Winter

Photokeratitis and WinterWe take many precautions during the summer to protect our skin from being burnt, but have you ever thought about protecting your eyes? Many are surprised to learn that your eyes can also get sunburnt. Just as you protect your skin, your eyes need protection too, especially during the winter to prevent snow blindness, a form of photokeratitis. One of the most overlooked precautions during winter is eye care. Fresh snow and ice can reflect nearly 80% of the UV radiation from the sun.

What is Photokeratitis?

Photokeratitis refers to an inflammation of the cornea due to over-exposure of light. Essentially it is a sunburned eye or cornea.

It is caused by damage from ultraviolet or UV rays that can be caused by the sun or man-made sources. Winter isn’t the only time to worry about photokeratitis, as it can occur from UV rays reflecting off sand and water, too. Activities such as water sports can put you at risk in addition to man-made sources such as arc welding, tanning lamps, or tanning beds.

Snow blindness

Snow blindness is a form of photokeratitis, where the sun’s rays are reflected off ice or snow. At higher altitudes the air is thinner, making the strength of the sun’s rays even stronger and eye protection an even more important part of your winter sports gear. Activities such as snowboarding, skiing, snowmobiling, or hiking are commonly associated with this condition.


Like a sunburn, by the time you notice your symptoms, it is already too late for preventative measures. Symptoms include:

  • Burning in eyes
  • Eye pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Swollen eyes or eyelids
  • Headaches
  • Glare and halos
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Red eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Eyelid/eye twitching
  • Vision loss
  • Gritty feeling in eyes as if something is in them

The longer your eyes are exposed to UV rays, the more severe your symptoms may be.


Photokeratitis and snow blindness typically go away on their own after a few days, so treatment is generally focused on providing comfort as your eyes recover.

  • Placing a cold washcloth over your eyes can help reduce swelling and irritation
  • Use artificial tears to keep your eyes moist, even if your eyes are watery
  • Take pain relievers to alleviate pain and discomfort
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes or irritating them
  • If you wear contacts, remove them until your eyes are healed as they may worsen your symptoms

If symptoms persist, please contact your eye doctor immediately.

Prevention is key. Anytime you are outside, you should protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses that block UV-A and UV-B rays. These rays can penetrate clouds, so even when the weather is gloomy eyewear is important. Always wear snow goggles or sports goggles with UV protection when participating in outdoor sports. For more information on photokeratitis or snow blindness, please contact Optical Solutions today.

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Hospital Center Commons

10 Hospital Center Commons, Ste 100
Hilton Head Island, SC 29926

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50 Shelter Cove Ln., Ste. G
Hilton Head Island, SC 29928


27 Dr. Mellichamp Dr. Ste 100
Bluffton, SC 29910

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