Strategies: Saving Your Eyes from Dubious Ski Specs

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, December 1995

Strategies: Saving Your Eyes from Dubious Ski Specs
By Dana Sullivan

It's a bright, beautiful day on the hill as you step into your bindings. Sunscreen and lip balm have been applied. You pat your jacket pocket to locate your sunglasses--not there. Should you brave the glare and fall into the lift line anyway? Definitely not, says Dr. Gerald Fishman, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. "Ideally you head to the ski shop and buy a new pair of sunglasses," he says, "good ones, from a reputable manufacturer, that will offer complete protection from both UVA and UVB rays," the harmful ultraviolet rays that have been linked to eye damage including cataracts.

As hard as it might be to trade your ski-school tuition for a new pair of Revos or Vuarnets, buying high-end may be your only sure safety bet. Even if you come across a pair of no-brand sunglasses with a label that promises 100 percent protection from the full spectrum of UV rays, know that the Food and Drug Administration doesn't enforce such claims as it does for sunscreen lotions--even though it classifies sunglasses as medical devices--and $20 promises are often made to be broken. A high-end manufacturer won't risk its reputation (or a lawsuit) with fraudulent labeling, however, so brand-name shades are generally a guaranteed investment. If they're sporting a Sunglass Association of America seal, rest assured that the manufacturer meets industry standards.

If you must gamble on sunglasses without the industry pedigree, remember that darker isn't necessarily better. "The lens darkness doesn't mean a thing," notes Fishman. In fact, very dark lenses that don't include a UV-blocking tint can do more harm to your eyes than no shades at all. That's because your pupils dilate wider to accommodate for the darkness--opening the way for more of the damaging rays.

If you have to wear unprotective glasses just for one ski weekend, Fishman concedes, you probably won't suffer any long-term problems, but you could easily go back to the hotel with a painful case of photokeratitis, also known as snow blindness. The signs are red, teary eyes and swollen, painful lids. If you've got them, Fishman recommends that you see a doctor, who can prescribe an antibiotic ointment that's safe for use around the eyes. If you can't get to a doctor right away, apply a cool compress to ease the immediate burning. The best treatment, if at all practical, is to place patches over your eyes (or over one at a time) to keep from blinking, thus preventing further irritation. The Captain Hook act should be over in two or three days, when the pain and swelling disappear.

To make sure your sunglasses are up to sun-protective snuff, have your optician test the lenses in a UV meter. Many sunglasses specialty shops also have such a machine, and the test is usually free.

Filed To: Snow Sports

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