As we experience some of the most extreme weather conditions in recent years, through the flurry of disgruntled travelers and burst pipes, there are those among us that are raising their mulled wine glasses in glee…the winter sport enthusiasts.
However, as they joyously take to the slopes, the cold snap brings its own challenges for outdoor enthusiasts and one hazard that’s easy to forget is protection and general health care for the eyes.
Surprising – considering eye injuries are the most common infliction suffered during ski and snowboarding activities and the high importance of being able to see where you are going in the snow. Conjunctivitis, keratitus, cataracts and retina damage are just some of the eyesight problems facing winter sports enthusiasts that neglect their eye health.
The human body is able to repair most of our organs in many ways, but the lens of the eye can’t repair itself, the risk of irreversible damage is high and we should be diligent in protecting our eyes.
During the dark winter months with less daylight hours and temperatures dropping, the sun may feel less intense, but the winter sun sits at a different angle, lower in the sky and can be so powerful it will burn your eyes – and in extreme cases, cause snow blindness comparable to sunburn. The ultraviolet light and glare from the sun is heightened by its reflection against the snow.
Wearing sunglasses with UV protection of at least 95% is the best way to protect your eyesight against the sun and avoid excessive UV exposure. The good news is sunglasses look cool, an integral component in the winter collection of top designers from Armani to Versace. With the accessibility of hundreds of styles to suit all tastes and the added bonus of looking good on the piste, sunglasses should be an obvious inclusion to our winter eye care regime.
The surface of our eyes often become irritated by harsh winds and snow sport enthusiasts should protect their eyes using properly fitted goggles with polycarbonate lenses, but it is important to make sure you have a proper fit, lenses and sun protection. Those with less than perfect vision benefit from the availability of prescription goggles.
Those who prefer to wear contact lenses are even more susceptible to dry eye syndrome caused by the dry, cold air and harsh winds at this time of year. Soft lenses especially require a lot of moisture to prevent them hardening and sticking to the eye which may cause them to change shape. But following the learned advice of limiting outdoor exposure and reducing the length of time in the eyes is no contest between the lure of optimum snow time. The additional peril of contact lenses dislodging during a run only increases their frustration.
Many winter sport athletes have opted for laser eye surgery to improve their vision and performance. Snowboarder Jeff Meyer took home a gold medal from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics after undergoing laser eye surgery when dislodged contact lenses affected his performance. Olympic and World Cup skiing champ Lindsey Vonn underwent laser eye surgery when it became difficult for her to see the gates and judge terrain, commenting that visual acuity could be the difference between winning and losing.
Laser eye surgery where surgeons use a laser to permanently change the shape of the cornea is an eye treatment that has given millions of people freedom from the need to wear glasses and contact lenses. The accuracy of its results is striking and laser eye treatment has become one of the most commonly performed surgeries in the world.