We know that eye protection doesn’t take a vacation when the seasons change. Active lifestyles necessitate a constant awareness of difficulties and dangers when engaged in what we love to do.

We all seem to have a pair of sunglasses in the car or on top of our heads. Listen up people, they are actually more than a fashion statement! Winter time can bring a plethora of eye-health threatening conditions. Dry eye symptoms can be more than just annoying. The drop in relative humidity, wind, and environmental conditions can cause irritated corneal cells, dehydrated scleral tissue, blurry vision and permanent eye damage. Downhill or cross-country skiing expose your eyes to windy conditions. Be sure to keep the hot air vents away from your eyes on the way to the hill. Excessive wind exposure can cause the sclera (the white part of the eye) to be irritated, causing a thickening of the tissue that can lead to chronic dry eye symptoms. The sclera is covered by a transparent mucous membrane, the conjunctiva, that is easily damaged by dry conditions. Prolonged exposure to dry environments and unfiltered UV can lead to troublesome and unsightly yellow bumps called pinguecula. Surgical removal may be the only cure.

Eye lubricants are as essential as skin cream in the winter.  Just like dry hands, eyes need lubricating too. But be careful. Some over-the-counter drops may have the opposite effect if used improperly. If possible, stay away from drops that have preservatives. The benefit of increased comfort can slowly turn to red sore eyes if you develop a sensitivity to the preservative. There are many excellent unpreserved products that will provide almost immediate relief from dry eyes. Your best bet is to ask your eye care professional for their recommendations. Avoid eye drops that claim to eliminate red eyes. These products may contain a vasoconstrictor—components that shrink blood vessels—but don’t address the underlying causes of red eyes.

Choosing the proper eyewear is crucial to eye protection in the winter. Two of the most important components are lens choice and frame selection. Sun wear is useless without quality lenses. It’s also best to stay away from drugstore sunglasses. Poor lens quality can cause distortions leading to headaches and eye strain. The UV protection may be non-existent or just a coating on the front surface. When a dark lens covers your eyes, your pupils naturally dilate to allow more light in.  If UV protection is minimal or inconsistent, you may actually get more harmful unfiltered UV into your eyes compared to wearing no sunglasses at all. A quality lens also has an anti-reflection coating on the inside surface to eliminate UV being reflected into your eyes. Sunglass frames are designed to provide coverage in all four directions, both sides and up and down. If bright light is sneaking in past the frame the best lens in the world won’t help. Reflected UV is just as harmful as UV from above. A frame that wraps around the face well is important. Remember it’s the lens that delivers the protection. Not the name on the frame. In our practice, we ask what type of sunglass a person wears. Hearing the name on the won’t tell us how good the lens is.  Designer frames don’t’ guarantee a quality lens.

Overexposure to harmful UVA and UVB radiation contributes to corneal damage, cataracts, macular degeneration and cancers of the eye and surrounding tissue.

Contact lenses can be useful for winter activities. Especially if they have effective UV protection. Currently, the only manufacturer that has 99 per cent UVA and UVB filtration is the Johnson and Johnson lenses. The world’s first photochromic (a lens that darkens when exposed to UV light) contact lens will be available early next year, providing an additional layer of protection to outdoor activities. Single-use, UV protecting lenses are particularly convenient for the part-time lens wearer. These lenses are comfortable, easy to use and affordable because you don’t have to worry about wasting lenses. If you wearing a two-week or a monthly lens, the clock is ticking as soon as you open the flat pack. Whether you wear the lens once or 14 times in a two-week period, it must be disposed of after that time. Contamination is a real concern as soaking solutions only disinfect, not sterilize.

And no, you don’t have to worry about your contacts freezing to your eyes in -20. Now get out there and enjoy our season!

By  Jim Thompson – Thompson Optics