Most of us remember to wear eye protection and sunscreen in the summer, but we probably don't think about it as much during the winter months, even though studies show that sun exposure — regardless of season — may increase the risk of developing cataracts, snow blindness and growths on the eye, including cancer.
Do you take the necessary precautions before you enjoy beautiful winter days? If you're like most people, you probably don't do so consistently.
In a recent study published in Archives of Dermatology, researchers took multiple readings of UV radiation at 32 high-altitude ski areas in western North America and interviewed thousands of skiers and snowboarders to find out whether they took precautions against the sun, such as wearing hats, sunscreen and goggles. The study found that most skiers and snowboarders took only occasional precautions against the sun.
However, sun reflecting off the snow can be very harsh. Exposure to UV radiation can even be high on cloudy days; in the northern hemisphere, the highest exposure is at midday. This extends through late winter and into early spring. Exposure also increases with elevation: the highest UV rating from the Archives of Dermatology study was taken at Mammoth Mountain in California.
Excessive exposure to UV light reflected off snow can damage the eyes' front surface. In addition to cataracts, sun exposure can lead to lesions and tumors that may be cosmetically unappealing and require surgical removal. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that people be especially careful to protect their eyes in the winter months and only wear goggles or sunglasses with UV protection.