Most people would agree that skiing is one of the most exciting sports of the winter, particularly when played outdoors. The feeling of skiing through the powder, glissading down a mountain, and watching the snow drift past are enough reasons to get hyped for the sport. Unfortunately, for those who suffer from snow blindness, the excitement of the moment is quickly replaced by irritation and discomfort as they struggle to ski with sunglasses on. The question is: Can you wear glasses during skiing? We spoke to Oliver Bonas, MD, medical director of Geneva University Hospitals and a member of the Swiss Ski Team, to find out.
What Is Snow Blindness?
To the dismay of skiers around the world, snow blindness is a condition that affects most people at some point in their life. The condition is caused by a viral infection that affects the eyes and damages the cornea, resulting in blurred vision and in some cases, total loss of vision. This is largely attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic as people were forced into close contact with one another and into indoors activities, primarily in the winter.
According to the European Society of Ophthalmology, “snow blindness is the most common ocular surface disorder in the winter. It results from a reduced blinking frequency, which allows the infectious agent to multiply and damage the ocular surface.”
While it is possible to protect yourself from getting snow blindness by wearing goggles during the winter, the condition is still prevalent enough to present a challenge. This is mainly due to the fact that most people are not aware of the severity of the condition or the methods needed to treat it. As a result, those with snow blindness often experience a dramatic deterioration in their quality of life, struggling with severe irritation and a lack of sleep due to pain and discomfort. This may lead to serious complications such as mental illness and even premature death.
Can You Wear Glasses During Skiing?
Skiing with glasses is generally not recommended as it prevents the fitting of the eye wear with a proper ski mask, which can cause irritation and even damage to the eyes. However, there are situations when it may be tolerated. Generally, you should wear your glasses during activities such as skiing where there is risk of injury or impact. In these cases, it is beneficial to have your eyesight protected. The issue becomes more complicated for those who suffer from snow blindness, since they are already at risk of injury or impact, and it is virtually impossible for them to remove their glasses during the activity. This is why it would be best to avoid wearing glasses during skiing activities if you have this condition.
The ideal solution is to have a pair of sunglasses specifically designed for skiing. These sunglasses should have the ability to block out harmful UV rays as well as any excess heat in addition to transmitting an appropriate amount of light for the activity, depending on the time of day and sunlight strength. This will protect your eyes from damage while also allowing you to enjoy the thrills of winter sports. If you are unable to get a pair of custom-made ski sunglasses, it is still possible to get a pair of sunglasses that offer comparable performance with the ability to block out the sun’s UV rays and heat. In this case, you may need to experiment with the positioning of the sun visor to find the best compromise between protecting your eyes and allowing you to see clearly while skiing.
Are There Alternatives To Preventing Snow Blindness?
While there is no universally agreed-upon cause for snow blindness, it is generally attributed to a combination of factors, including cold weather, dry weather, and low humidity. This makes it the perfect preventative measure for those who live in arid regions and also love to ski. Those who are unable to ski because of snow blindness may still enjoy the joy of winter sports in alternate ways, including via virtual reality. It is also important to note that those with snow blindness often experience an improvement in vision with occlusion (covering) of the affected eye, which may indicate that sunlight is responsible for the condition. In these situations, it may be beneficial to cover the eye with an eye patch for the duration of the activity.
If you are planning on going skiing or another winter sport in the near future, keep this in mind and make sure you are prepared to deal with any potential ramifications that may arise from your condition. More details about snow blindness can be found on the ESO’s website.