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Photokeratitis or Snow Blindness: Everything you need to know

What is photokeratitis?

Photokeratitis is a painful, temporary eye condition caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays , most commonly from the sun. Photokeratitis can be compared to a sunburn, except that it affects the cornea of ​​your eyes instead of your skin. Exposure to UV rays can temporarily damage the cornea (the clear part of your eye in front of your pupil) and the conjunctiva (a clear layer of tissue that covers the inside of your eyelid and the white of your eye).

Snow blindness is a type of photokeratitis that occurs when UV rays are reflected by snow and ice. It is more common near the North and South Poles or in mountainous areas where the air is thinner and provides less protection from UV rays.

Who is most at risk of photokeratitis?

You are more at risk of getting photokeratitis if you:

  • You spend a lot of time outdoors in the sun – participating in activities such as mountain climbing, hiking, skiing and swimming.
  • Use a lamp, tanning bed, or when you work or spend time in environments where there is a source of UV light.
  • You live at higher altitudes (higher exposure to UV rays) or in the sun zone.

What causes photokeratitis?

Your eyes can be damaged by UV rays. Specifically, UV-A and UV-B rays from the sun can cause short- and long-term damage to your eyes and affect your vision. Although the sun also emits UV-C radiation, these rays are absorbed by the ozone layer and do not harm your eyes.

In addition to direct sunlight, other sources of UV light that can cause photokeratitis include:

  • Sunlight reflected in your eyes by snow, ice, water, sand or cement.
  • Lamps used in solariums or solarium chambers
  • Laser light
  • Mercury vapor lamps, halogen table lamps.
  • Lightning, electric sparks.
  • Arc welding equipment, photographic flood lamps.

Looking directly at the sun, such as during a solar eclipse, can actually cause more long-term and serious damage – a burn – to your retina.

What are the symptoms of photokeratitis?

If you have photokeratitis, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Eye pain or redness
  • Watery/watery eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Swelling
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Contractions of the eyelids
  • Sensation of hair in the eyes
  • Temporary loss of vision
  • Headaches
  • Temporary loss of vision (rare)
  • Color changes in your vision (rare)

Symptoms can last from 6 to 24 hours, but usually disappear within 48 hours. The longer you are exposed to UV radiation, the more severe your symptoms may be.

How can photokeratitis be prevented?

  • Protect your eyes with sunglasses or snow goggles. Sunglasses or glasses that block or absorb 99% to 100% of UV rays are recommended if you spend time outdoors. Sunglasses that roll up or those with side panels are recommended to block all harmful UV rays. Glare from snow, sand, or water can cause eye burns even if it's overcast or cloudy.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat or visor when outdoors.
  • Use appropriate eye protection if you are exposed to UV radiation while working.
  • If you wear contact lenses and work or play in a sunny environment, ask your eye doctor about UV-absorbing contacts.
  • Visit your eye doctor at least once a year for a complete eye exam.

 

 

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