Fergus Falls Optometric Center
"Family Eyecare from the Eyecare Family."
Dr. Mark D. Olmsted and Dr. Christine A. Olmsted
117 E. Lincoln Ave.
Fergus Falls, MN 56537
Appointments: 218-736-7555

Winter Sports Eye Safety - 14 Feb 2005

Winter Sports Eye Safety
14 Feb 2005

Winter Sports Eye SafetyNot that there has been much snow or very thick ice on the lakes this season, but winter outdoor enthusiasts have very specific visual safety and eye protection needs. Ultraviolet (UV) light is the first important issue that comes to mind. This is the spectrum of non-visible light, which causes sunburn. Contrary to what you may assume, UV radiation is much higher in the winter, than it is in summer. In fact, it is almost 17 times more intense in the winter, compared to summer. At noon, the amount of radiation is ten times more than during other hours. Altitude also increases radiation, with an increased intensity of 16% for every 1000 meters above sea level, something for the downhill skier to consider.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, UV light is well known to be a factor in the development of skin cancer, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration. The skin of our eyelids is always exposed, so it is a very common place for cancerous growths. Another condition unique to the winter is snowblindness. This is essentially sunburn on the surface of our cornea, which is the clear “watchglass” part of our eye and a very painful short-term problem. About 85% of the sunlight reaching the earth in reflected by the snow, which compounds the amount of UV that reaches the eye, creating circumstances for snowblindness to develop on unprotected eyes. Cross country skiers, snowshoers, and outside ice fisherman must take care for this if they spend a lot of time in these activities.

How can you protect yourself? Polycarbonate lenses and good sunglasses can protect your eyes from UV radiation. Plastic lenses can be treated with a UV blocking coat. Photochromic lenses, which change darker from sunlight exposure also block UV. Polarized sunwear blocks most UV and are excellent for decreasing glare off snow or ice for cross-country skiers and ice fishermen. Polarized lenses also block all visible light except the light that approaches from a perfectly vertical orientation. Light reflected off ice and snow is reflected from scattered directions, but tends to come at us horizontally. This decrease glare helps us better see what we are doing, a safety factor while doing anything, but especially, something involving speed, such as snowmobiling.

For visual safety during after dark snowmobiling it is imperative to wear your visual correction to be able to pick out obstacles. I often hear people complain about their glasses fogging under their snowmobile helmets. Contact lenses are the obvious solution. I have a number of patients, who are not regular contact wearers, but wear them specifically for this unique situation. Their lens of choice is a daily disposable lens, if the person’s Rx is within the range of availability. These lenses come in reasonably priced 30-packs. Normally 2 packs are intended as a month supply, but last the part-timers almost a year. They are worn once, then thrown away, which is perfect for these part-time wearers, because they don’t have to worry about cleaning them or how old their contacts are before putting them in, since they crack open a new pair as needed.

Dr. Mark D. Olmsted