As you gaze outside your window this winter, don’t lose sight of what brings every wonderland to light—your eyes. By taking precautions this season, you can preserve your vision and guarantee that you will enjoy the sights of the holiday seasons to come. To do so, you need to understand how winter weather creates hazards for the eyes.
“Winter enthusiasts look forward to this time of year,” explains AOA Board of Trustee Carlo J. DiMarco, DO, an osteopathic ophthalmologist and director of the Millcreek Community Hospital Ophthalmology Residency Program in Erie, Pa. “They spend their days happily, racing down the slopes, but they do not realize the amount of time they are exposed to intense reflected sunlight.”
Overexposure to the winter sun’s powerful ultraviolet (UV) rays without proper eye protection can temporarily harm the eyes or even cause photokeratitis. This condition is like sunburning sensitive tissues of the eyeball. Although photokeratitis may heal with time, the best way to safeguard vision is to avoid excessive UV ray exposure.
“It’s not just the skiers that need to worry about photokeratitis,” warns Dr. DiMarco. “Appropriate eye protection should be worn when shoveling snow, putting up or taking down holiday decorations or just going for a walk.”
Dr. DiMarco further explains that while many people associate winter with gray skies, the sun often comes out unexpectedly. Since sunglasses are left behind, many people are subjected to exposure without the proper protection.
“UV light has been proven to cause certain types of cataracts and has been implicated in age-related macular degeneration,” he explains. “These are two of the most common eye health problems experienced in older adults.”
In terms of protection, Dr. DiMarco recommends lenses that block 99 percent to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation. Ski goggles, which cover the eyes as well as the surrounding skin, are another option. Goggles are the preferred protection for snowmobilers as well as downhill and cross-country skiers, since they block harmful sunlight while preventing debris and snow from blowing into the eyes.
The sun is not winter’s only eye hazard. Cool winds and dry air can irritate eyes, even in warmer climates. Harsh weather can make eyes constantly dry and irritated, especially for those who wear contact lenses. Dry eyes can be trouble inside as well, since indoor heat tends to eliminate moisture from the air.
“Although most cases of indoor irritation are mild, it often provokes excessive rubbing and further scratching of the eye,” explains Dr. DiMarco.
To add moisture to eyes, he recommends eye drops, like artificial tears, a few times a day. In addition, he advises installing humidifiers throughout the house to increase indoor levels of humidity.
“Simple preventive measures for your eyes this winter will allow you to enjoy a beautiful spring,” stresses Dr. DiMarco.
Preventive medicine is just one aspect of care osteopathic physicians (D.O.s) provide. Osteopathic physicians are fully-licensed to prescribe medicine and practice in all specialty areas including surgery. D.O.s are trained to consider the health of the whole person and use their hands to help diagnose and treat their patients.
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