winter eyes

Healthy Eyes in Winter: Tips for CO Residents

January 26, 2023

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We’ve winterized our homes and cars, boots and wardrobes, but have we winterized our eyes?

Coloradans experience shorter days, colder temperatures, and significant snowstorms in Autumn, Winter, and Spring. We rarely consider how winter affects our vision and eye health. The Winter season is in full force and there are still two+ months to go. It’s not too late to make sure you have healthy winter eyes.

Colorado’s mean elevation is the highest of all 50 states at 6,800 feet. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy the views of our 59 peaks that sit at 14,000 feet or higher throughout the year. Our largest city sits one mile above sea level at 5,280 feet.

Our high altitude paired with the winter elements creates a unique set of challenges in protecting eye health throughout the season. These include snow blindness and dry eyes.

Winter Snow Blindness

Colorado winters increase the risk of snow blindness (aka arc eye or photokeratitis) caused by a sunburn of the cornea.


Enjoying life and winter activities at higher elevations means that we experience higher UV exposure and that translates to a higher risk of snow blindness. Snow blindness occurs when the cornea gets too much UV light causing a sunburn.

Symptoms of snow blindness can take hours to present themselves and include:

  • change of eye color
  • headache
  • blurry vision
  • temporary vision loss

Even on overcast days, UV rays can still penetrate cloud coverage. That beautiful blanket of snow intensifies all sun exposure through reflection. The intensified UV exposure in winter due to light reflecting off snow at higher altitudes is generally why we see more cases of photokeratitis in the winter.

Prevent snow blindness when you wear …

  • Polarized sunglasses for driving and daily outdoor activities.
  • A wide-brimmed hat is an alternative if you’re without eye protection for a period of time, but it won’t protect your eyes from snow, water, or sand that reflects UV rays from the ground.
  • Eye protection at all times when outside and even during overcast periods.
  • High-quality tinted goggles for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. Goggles provide full protection around the eyes when reflective UV exposure is high. This also reduces the risk of dry eyes.

Individuals who are experiencing photokeratitis should see Dr. Van for help throughout the painful healing process.

Winter Dry Eyes

Colorado is a semi-arid to very-arid state. Cold air consists of less water than warm air making dry eyes more common in the winter.

Symptoms of dry eyes often include:

  • Redness
  • Itchiness
  • Burning
  • Stickiness
  • A sensation of a foreign body in the eye

It’s important to understand that the use of space heaters and woodburning stoves/fireplaces can further dry out the air around you, which ultimately reduces the moisture levels in your eyes.

To combat dry eyes, Dr. Van recommends that you:

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the winter season and year-round.
  • Use artificial tears. Van’s Eyecare offers high-performance lubricant eyedrops to ward off dry eyes.
  • Wear 100% UV-blocking eyeglasses or goggles when outdoors.
  • Use humidifiers in the home and/or office.
  • Reduce the amount of time that you wear contact lenses.
  • Avoid smoke from cigarettes or indoor/outdoor fires as smoke can increase irritation.
  • Point heating vents in your car away from your face or use seat warmers to reduce high-heat airflow.

If you want further treatment for either snow blindness or dry eyes, contact Dr. Kenneth Van Amerongen, your Loveland optometrist at Van’s Eyecare.