As the winter approaches, you can't wait to hit the slopes. You and your friends have tried almost every ski resort in Illinois, from Chestnut Mountain to Four Lakes Village. And you feel ready to try some of the easier black diamond terrain, or at least brush up your skills on the blue square runs.

But as you gather your poles, gloves, boots, and jacket, don't forget to bring your eye protection as well. Photokeratitis presents a real problem to skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers alike.

What Is Photokeratitis?

Photokeratitis, snow blindness, arc eye, and flash burns are all common names for the same painful eye condition. Overexposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays (UV) damages the eye's cornea and conjunctiva, resulting in injury comparable to a sun burn.

Although photokeratitis often occurs when sunlight reflects off snow, it sometimes happens when the UV rays reflect off sand or water. If you stare too long at a solar eclipse without a specialized device, you may also suffer from photokeratitis.

What Symptoms Does It Cause?

Common symptoms for the condition include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Constricted (small) pupils
  • Eyelid twitching
  • Hazy vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Seeing halos
  • Swelling
  • Tearing

But in rare, severe cases, you may experience temporary vision loss and color changes in your vision.

What Are the Best Ways to Prevent It?

Photokeratitis is entirely preventable when you wear adequate eye protection.


If you have gentler activities planned for the day, such as walking your dog or jogging around the block, you can wear sunglasses without worrying about photokeratitis. Your lenses will block a lot of the sun's UV rays that would otherwise hit your eyes straight on.

Ask your eye doctor for mirror-coated or polarized lenses made from glass or UV-proof plastic, as these shield your eyes more effectively than paler plastic alternatives.

Glacier Glasses

If you plan to spend a little more time in the snow, you'll want heavier-duty goggles. Glacier glasses fit much like sunglasses, but they often include features that block light from the sides of your eyes and near your nose. You can detach and reattach the extra features to accommodate changes in your environment. Furthermore, the lenses often rely on a porous materials that allows for air circulation between the lens and your eyes.

Snow or Ski Goggles

For intense outdoor adventures, you may want to invest in ski goggles. Ski goggles work best for windy, blizzard-like conditions. Like glacier glasses, they offer full eye coverage via polarized, mirrored lenses. But unlike glacier glasses, the goggles come in one piece, preventing ice and snow from sneaking under the lens.

What Should You Do If You Experience Photokeratitis?

If you were to lose or forget your sunglasses, you may see symptoms within six to twelve hours after overexposure. And the symptoms will vary in severity depending on how much time you spent in the sun.

Fortunately, photokeratitis symptoms typically fade on their own within a day or two. As soon as you notice the problem, remove any contact lenses you may be wearing and schedule an appointment. Your doctor can then examine your eyes to ensure no other permanent damage occurred.

Next, your doctor may give you additional advice for soothing your irritated eyes. The most common ways to relieve photokeratitis symptoms include:

  • Applying eye drops or artificial tears
  • Placing a cool washcloth over the eyes
  • Taking recommended pain relievers

And since photokeratitis tends to cause sensitivity to light, you may wish to spend the next few days in a dark or dimly lit room. If symptoms persist, seek additional care from your eye doctor.

When you take adequate care of your eyes, you won't have to miss any more days on the slopes.  

Absolute Vision Care & Absolute Hearing Care

For over 30 years, we have been and will continue to be your pediatric and family eye care specialists. We're looking forward to seeing you!