5 12 2011

As it snows and blows outside, I often wonder how the early pioneers survived.   They had to be so much tougher than most people living today.  My father and my maternal grandmother still recall even up to the 1950’s,  living in houses in Iowa where the snow blew in through the spaces in the walls.   My dad explained that “if that’s all you know, you don’t realize how much more comfortable you could be with modern conveniences.”  It’s true.  You don’t know what you don’t know.    So with my fancy, Oakley polarized sunwear that protects my eyes and makes me see better with the sun shining on the snow, I also wonder how did the pioneers in the 1800’s or even the Indians not go “snow blind” before sunglasses were made.

Snow blindness is when the ultra-violet (U-V) light from the sun reflects off the snow or ice and causes a phototoxic keratitis (a sunburn to the cornea).  Photokeratitis can be from welding (flashburn) or suntanning with insufficient protection in front of the eyes.   I have treated many a teen age snow skier that didn’t listen to advice and skied even for a brief amount of time without their sunglasses and ended up in severe pain.  It makes the eyes feel like someone poured sand in your eyes!  It hurts!  The eyes will also be red, water and will be intensely light sensitive for 24-48hrs.  More severe burns can actually damage the retina (back of the eye).

While welder’s have had home remedies for years, modern treatment consists of cold packs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory eye drops, steroid eye drops, and even patching the eyes.  If you end up with a photokeratitis and are in pain, see your eye doctor right away to minimize the damage and help relieve the pain.

Prevention is best and is as easy as using eyewear that blocks the U-V light.  A polarized U-V blocking lens is best as it eliminates glare to see better and blocks the U-V radiation to protect the eyes.  The Eskimos fashioned goggles out of bone or antler that had horizontal slits to block most of the U-V light.  There are many stories of pioneers and settlers that were lost and died or just layed up for days due to snow blindness since they had no eye protection back then.  I guess in a worst case scenario in today’s world, you could make your own Eskimo goggles with duct tape and make a slit over your regular glasses to see through!   (kidding!)

So be prepared when the sun comes out and the snow is covering the ground.  Have a good quality,  polarized, U-V blocking sunglass lens to wear to protect the eyes from the agony of snowblindness.

Courtesy of Dumas Vision Source, PLLC and Dr Tory W. Moore, Optometric Glaucoma Specialist.    Serving the Dumas, Texas,  Moore County and upper Texas Panhandle area for 21 years.   Call (806) 935-2020 for appointment or visit our optical gallery without an appointment.  Connect on Twitter @eyedocdumas  and like our Facebook business page:  Dumas Vision Source You also can visit our website for more information.   Tory Moore, OD  – “A Hometown Eye Doctor You Know and Can Trust!”




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