Snow blindness can be a painful and debilitating injury in the winter season, leaving you temporarily blind for up to a day and helpless in a winter emergency.
This temporary form of blindness can be caused by the reflected glare of sunlight from snow, ice, water, or even sand. Most commonly, snow is the culprit, as the intense glare reflected from white snow on sunny days can actually cause your eyes to become sunburned. Snow blindness can happen even when it’s overcast, if the right amount of reflected light is magnified. The symptoms of snow blindness can include:
- Redness, puffiness around the eyes
- A burning sensation in the eyes that has been described as feeling like sand or even broken glass sprinkled in your eyes
- Watering eyes with a sensitivity to light
- Full closing of the eyes
- Painful headaches similar to migraines
Treating Snow Blindness
You can treat snow blindness in the field, but it requires time. The treatment is to rest for 18 to 24 hours with one’s eyes closed. Bandage the patient’s eyes to keep them from looking around, and administer pain medicine as needed. In the end, the eyes will heal themselves.
Preventing Snow Blindness
Snow blindness is easily prevented by wearing UV-protective sunglasses. It’s not a bad idea to stock your winter survival kit with a pair of polarized sunglasses, as well as sun block for the other exposed areas of your face. If you find yourself in a situation without UV-protective sunglasses, you can make snow goggles as the native folks of the arctic have done for centuries by cutting slits into a rectangular strip of cloth, leather, or plastic. Some traditional Inuit snow goggles were made from walrus tusk ivory or animal bones such as wide rib bones. You can also craft the slotted eyewear from wood or bark, and use cord to keep it on your face. Whichever material you choose to fashion your goggles from, cut a ⅛- or 3/16-inch-wide slit about 5 inches in length. This slit will greatly reduce the amount of glare that strikes your eyes and limit the amount of damage your eyes sustain.
Have you ever been snow blind? Tell us your story in the comments.