Winter is coming: The cold, the wind and humid environments. The days are shorter and there is less overexposure to the sun. However, we must not forget that the eye is a very delicate organ and we have to take care in the mountains and in snowy environments, especially when we go skiing.

The eyes, as precise as they are fragile

Our eyes allow us to transform the light energy received in the photoreceptors of the retina, into electrical signals that are quickly sent to the brain through the optic nerve. The eyes, although they do not exceed 2.5 cm in diameter, are complex and surprising at the same time: from the lens, to the pupil, through the iris and the retina. An organ that stands out for its precision and fragility.

DRY EYE DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN THAT THEY ARE “DRY”

The tear film of the eyes is a natural defense that suffers easily in mountains. It is made up of layers that cover the front surface of the eyes.

The aqueous humor and the vitreous are those liquids located around the cornea, the iris and the lens. These liquids nourish the surface of the skin of the eyes. They disinfect it using natural antibacterial substances to protect against infections and regulate the pressure for their correct functioning, avoiding intraocular pressure.

Tension in the tear film of the eyes

The harsh conditions encountered by climbers and skiers in high mountain environments often put stress on the tear film of the eyes, producing uncomfortable dry eye symptoms, visual difficulties, and an increased risk of infection. 

Fight dry eyes

Dry eye is a term used to refer to abnormalities of the tear film that covers the surface of the eye, protects tissues and maintains good vision. Dry eye does not necessarily mean that they are “dry”.  Many people diagnosed with dry eye present watery eyes, although of low quality. People diagnosed are capable of tears but of poor quality.

Atmospheres with low air pressure and low relative humidity cause rapid evaporation of the water layer from the tear film, especially when combined with wind and ultraviolet light levels.

The result often leads to discomfort in the eyeball and reduces the clarity of vision. Mountain conditions diminish the functionality of the thin film of lipid molecules that covers the eyes. Symptoms may include: a burning sensation and itching. The eyes will often look red and inflamed after a day of skiing, if we do not use suitable sun protection glasses for the extreme situations that we can find in the mountains.

Image: eyes dazzled by the sun

Protect the macular tissue

The mechanism of the eye is another wonder of nature: light enters the eye through the cornea, passing through the pupil and lens, and is focused on a small area of ​​the retina at the back of the eye, called macula. The macula is located in the center of the retina and provides us with detailed vision in a straight line.

This allows us to see details, such as facial features and fine print. When the macula deteriorates due to aging and external factors that accelerate its degradation, the delicate macular tissue breaks down and objects can appear blurry, distorted and colorless.

When the atmospheric pressure is low, normally below 1013.25 hPa, there is a greater probability of a storm forming. This same drop in pressure also alters that of the eye. Normally, this ranges between 12 and 22 mm Hg. Values above or below those ranges that can generate long-term problems.

Avoid dry skier eyes

Protecting the eyes from the wind and ultraviolet sunlight with specific glasses for snow is not a triviality. It is recommended to drink adequate amounts of water and avoid alcohol consumption, since it is important to avoid dehydration in the body at altitude but it is also another significant aggravating factor in the case of dry eyes.

Use appropriate drops

The use of suitable drops to moisten the eyes (available in most pharmacies) is usually helpful. It is important however to pay attention to the package description since some dry eye products contain substances that can cause allergic reactions in a minority of people.

Generally, the use of contact lenses considerably increases the evaporation of water and it is preferable to wear glasses while skiing. Unfortunately, wearing glasses inside your goggles is often uncomfortable and risky in the event of an accident.

Good hydration

The correct hydration will help to keep the body’s blood pressure regulated, so avoid alcohol. Low temperatures increase the blood pressure and consequently the internal pressure in the eye.

The refraction of snow is relevant, with UV and HEV rays (known as blue light) affecting wavelengths between 400 and 500 nanometers, they can generate cataracts, degeneration of the aforementioned macula and even blindness.

With children and adolescents, we must multiply precautions, since they are in the growth phase and the eyeball is not mature. The absence of mature yellow chromophores in the crystalline lens of children causes part of the radiation to advance to the retina. This can cause problems in the Macula.

It is highly recommendable to use specific goggles for snow when skiing, with 100% UV and HEV protection. Polycarbonate models are the most resistant to possible impacts and falls.

Sunglasses or balaclava?

Choosing between sunglasses or blizzard glasses on sunny days is a matter of aesthetics but also of practicality. The mask protects better from impacts, wind and possible particles that can enter while descending the slopes.

It is important to acquire one that has a sunscreen factor 4, which will absorb more than 90% of the extreme luminosity that we can find in a ski resort and will also help prevent possible situations of dry eyes with good hydration.  Many brands of ski goggles offer this protection factor of 4. These masks will also help prevent possible dry eye situations.