Eye Health Sunglasses: Protecting Your Eyes in the Winter Months By Eye Center, January 23, 2015 The first round of snow has hit the ground which means it’s time for boots, scarves, gloves, and heavy jackets. When dressing for winter weather, we bundle up but often forget about one of the most important winter accessories: sunglasses. Although you may not think of going outside without a pair of shades in the summer, there are actually a number of good reasons to wear your sunglasses outdoors all year long – especially during the winter! Importance of Sunglasses Sunglasses are often considered the go-to summertime accessory, protecting our eyes from the harsh glare of the sun. However, the strong effects of the sun’s rays are just as intense during the winter. Prolonged exposure to the sun may increase your likelihood of developing: Cataracts Macular degeneration Sunburn on the cornea In addition to developing one of the conditions above, exposure to the sun during the winter can increase your risk of experiencing vision troubles due to snow glare, snow blindness, or dry eye. Snow Glare If you spend a great deal of time outside or driving during the winter it’s especially important for you to wear sunglasses. The snow reflects nearly 80 percent of the sun’s rays, which increases the likelihood that harmful rays are directed to your eyes. The increased reflected glare can also contribute to already dangerous road conditions during this time of year. For snowboarders and skiers who spend hours on snow-covered ski slopes, snow glare may result in a condition known as snow blindness. Snow Blindness Ultraviolet radiation increases at a rate of approximately five percent for each 1,000 feet above sea level. Because skiers and snowboarders are in higher altitudes, they are at higher risk for experiencing a condition called snow blindness. This condition is a burn on the cornea and can cause tearing, pain, bloodshot eyes, hazy vision, and most commonly a feeling of sand in the eye that lasts for up to two days. Dry Eye During the winter, many experience dry eyes because of changing temperatures. Sunglass use can help with this common winter complaint. Dry eye occurs when the eye doesn’t produce enough tears to keep the eye properly lubricated. It causes discomfort, redness, and irritation in the eyes. Although winter weather seems to contribute to flare ups, limiting exposure of your eyes to the sun by wearing sunglasses can help prevent dry eye symptoms. As temperatures drop from the summer heat to winter chills, don’t pack your sunglasses away. Maybe even buy a new pair to help protect your eyes this winter. If shopping, remember sunglasses come in many styles and sizes, including prescription. Learn about the best sunglasses for you. For more information on the conditions above or to schedule an appointment with one of our UPMC Eye Center experts, visit the UPMC Eye Center online or call 412-647-2200.