Winter Sports Eye Safety

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Winter Sports Eye Safety Tips: Wear Sunglasses or Goggles in the Snow

Young children love the snow, whether it is making snowmen, sledding or racing down the slopes on skis or snowboards. While most parents are very careful to make sure their kids are dressed warmly, they also need to be sure to protect vulnerable young eyes and heads with sunglasses, goggles and helmets.

Snow Blindness

Although a smaller amount of UV radiation reaches the Earth’s surface in winter, snow is highly reflective. On a sunny winter day, snow can reflect 80% of all UV rays, compared with 10% for grass and 15% for dry beach sand. This intense exposure can temporarily harm the eyes producing "snow blindness" (photokeratitis) and increase the risk of an individual developing sunlight-related eye disorders (e.g,. cataracts) later in life.

Dr. Borchert said that symptoms of snow blindness might not appear until 6-12 hours after exposure. "A child with photokeratitis may complain of extreme sensitivity to light and the feeling of having sand in the eye. A family physician or eye doctor should be consulted immediately. While a child’s cornea will heal with time and treatment, continued childhood exposure to large amounts of UV radiation may contribute to cataracts and macular degeneration in adulthood."


Buying Sunglasses or Goggles

According to Dr. Mark Borchert, a pediatric ophthalmologist and the division head of The Vision Center at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, the lens of a child’s eye is still developing and it allows 70% more UV rays to reach the delicate retina than in an adult’s eye.

"If a child is going to spend several hours in the snow on a sunny day, he should definitely be wearing sunglasses. Goggles are even better because they can prevent debris or snow from entering the eye," said Dr. Borchert.

When buying sunglasses or goggles:

  • Check to make sure they protect from both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Children under six years old may need sunglasses with Velcro straps to keep them in place.

Helmets

Dr. Borchert noted that in addition to goggles, helmets are strongly recommended for young skiers. "Studies show helmets can reduce head injuries by 50 per cent. If kids learn to ski wearing helmets, they often continue the practice as adults. Many large resorts now require children to wear helmets when taking ski lessons."