As the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics play out, we’ll be treated to breathtaking feats of resilience and strength in sport, from slalom to ski jumping. But these acts of endurance risk more than muscle strains and bruises; the dry air and snow glare also can damage the eyes. You’ll notice the athletes wear appropriate eye protection, and there’s a reason for that.
When it comes to the eyes, we have more in common with these high-level athletes than you think. Regardless of your athletic prowess, a few basic preventive measures can protect everyone’s vision in the winter months.
From sledding or skiing on reflective snow to skating on ice to driving or strolling through a winter wonderland, the season ushers in a series of conditions and activities that can threaten our eye health. But there is a silver lining —vision benefits that provide style and protection with UV-blocking and anti-glare prescription sunglasses – whether you go for sporty or luxury fashion.
But how do you know what you need? Your eye doctor should recommend what’s best for you, but here are 3 of the most common cold-weather eye ailments and how to prevent them:
1. Sun glare
Take a hint from those downhill skiers — the winter sun’s potential damage to the eyes, due to glare, is not to be ignored, even when it’s overcast. Some reports indicate the snow reflects nearly 80% of the sun’s harmful rays. But you don't have to be an athlete to be at risk from harmful glare.
Everyday exposure to glare from snow, ice and water can contribute to cataracts, age-related blindness, blurred vision and trouble seeing at night. We also can suffer snow blindness, which is like a sunburned cornea (the transparent layer at the front of the eye), though it may also refer to the freezing of the corneal surface.
Polarized lenses are the go-to source for reducing glare, but be sure your sunglasses include 100% UV protection and — depending on your winter activity — strong, polycarbonate lenses. And speaking of UV rays, The Vision Council calculates that if the average U.S. adult spent just 30 minutes wearing a pair of sunglasses with adequate UV protection during the day, their
eyes would gain nearly 183 hours of UV-free time over the course of a year. They note that this protection is key to slowing the acceleration of serious eye diseases that Americans may face if they don’t take UV eye protection seriously.
2. Winter winds
Fun fact: Olympic bobsleds can reach speeds of more than 90 miles per hour — that’s eye-opening wind! But it’s not just the bobsled athletes who are exposed to winter winds. Think about everyday winter snow shoveling, outdoor exercise and even walking through the mall parking lot. Combined with the dry heat of indoors, winter winds increase tear evaporation and can lead to dry eye. Eye drops, or artificial tears, should ease discomfort while wraparound sunglasses, even on overcast days, will help shield eyes from harsh winds.
And if that’s not enough, if your eyes get teary, your eyelashes can literally freeze. If that happens, don't try to force your eyes open — just place a hand over your closed eye until the ice melts.
3. Viruses like Pink Eye
Even bystanders can fall victim to cold-weather eye hazards. In 2014, pink eye forced commentator Bob Costas to step down from covering the Winter Games in Sochi. Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, can be caused by the same virus as the common cold. If you have red, itchy eyes with a discharge, change your pillowcases (also do not share them), avoid touching your eyes and store away your contact lenses and makeup until it clears up.
Warm up to vision benefits
The Winter Olympics serve as a tradition that lets us appreciate the golden opportunities right outside our doors. Sure, it’s cold outside, but good vision benefits offer affordable protection with lots of choices, so we can pursue our winter lifestyles while looking great. And there’s a bonus for EyeMed members with a fully funded benefit: 40% on a 2nd pair of prescription eyewear (including prescription sunglasses) and 20% off non-prescription sunglasses.
And for those lucky enough to wait out the winter in warmer climates, the glare of the sun is following you. Those same specs that protect against winter sun also shield harmful rays reflecting off the sand and water.
Want to know more? Read these surprising Winter Eye Facts on our eyesiteonwellness.com blog. To learn more about vision benefits from EyeMed, take a look at our brochure on how we Challenge The Status Quo in vision benefits for more than 50 million members in the U.S.
1. “Let the Sunshine In, but Not the Harmful Rays,” by Lesley Alderman, The New York Times, Jan. 14, 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/01/15/health/15patient.html
2. “What are the Dangers of Sun Glare from Snow?” by Jenny Green, April 25, 2017, Sciencing, https://sciencing.com/dangers-sun-glare-snow-16444.html
3. “What Is Photokeratitis — Including Snow Blindness,” by Daniel Porter, Sept. 1, 2017, American Academy of Ophthalmology https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/photokeratitis-snow-blindness
4. The Vision Council 2016 UV Protection Report-- https://www.thevisioncouncil.org/sites/default/files/TVC_UV_Report2016.pdf
5. “Bobsleigh,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobsleigh
6. “Dry Eye.” American Optometric Association, https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/eye-and-vision-problems/glossary-of-eye-and-vision-conditions/dry-eye
7. “Dry Eye Treatment: Getting Relief From Dry Eyes,” AllAboutVision, reviewed by Richard Adler, MD, February 2017, http://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/dryeye.htm
8. “Facts About Pink Eye,” National Eye Institute, https://nei.nih.gov/health/pinkeye/pink_facts