Have you ever experienced eye pain? It’s a little different from irritation. Irritation can make your eyes itchy, uncomfortable, and watery, but eye pain is different. Eye pain is the result of an eye-related illness, condition, or injury.
Eye pain can throb or ache, but don’t worry; it only hurts when you blink or move your eyes. Sarcasm aside, eye pain is hard to deal with, and it can be hard to get relief without seeing your eye doctor.
The best way to avoid eye pain is to protect your eyes when you’re in a situation that could result in an eye-pain condition. Stoggles is here to help. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about winter eye pain, from what causes it, what’s going on inside your eye, and how you can prevent it.
Inside Your Eyes
To better understand why you get eye pain in the winter, you need to understand how your eyes function and what structures are susceptible to injury and discomfort. Your eyes are phenomenal, highly advanced structures that function like a camera.
At the front of your eye lies the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that covers the whites of your eyes. This membrane helps keep your eyes moisturized and keeps your eyes free from debris by catching unwanted particles and relocating them to the corners of your eyes for removal.
In the center of your eye is your cornea. The cornea is like a window that covers the iris and pupil, the colored portion of your eye with the little black dot that dilates. The cornea and conjunctiva are your eyes' second line of defense (behind your lashes and lids) for intruders. That places them at a higher risk of developing injury or irritation.
Behind the cornea is the lens, which collects light and sends it back to the retina. The retina is behind the vitreous body. The vitreous body can best be described as a gelatinous mass made up of salt, collagen, sugar, and protein.
This material gives your eye shape and acts like a shock absorber for the important structures located behind it.
The retina, macula, and optic nerve are located behind your eye jelly. The retina receives the light from the lens and sends the details to your brain via the optic nerve. The brain then tells you what you see. The macula helps ensure your vision is clear, precise, and detailed.
A Few Anatomical Notes
Your retina is home to millions of retinal cells. These cells are what give you your vision. Unlike other cells in your body, they don’t regenerate. That means when they’re damaged or destroyed, they’re gone, and along with them, your vision.
The fact that retinal cells don’t regenerate makes it all the more important to recognize that eye safety is crucial to keeping our vision. While eye pain isn’t usually a direct threat to your retina, repeated eye injury or exposure to eye-damaging light like UV rays and blue light can cause your vision to suffer.
Why Do Your Eyes Hurt in Cold Weather?
Blame it all on the cornea and conjunctiva. These two structures that protect your eyes are most likely to become irritated and inflamed when you’re exposed to cold temperatures.
When they become irritated, you’ll experience pain. This might be similar to the pain you might experience when you have conjunctivitis or “pink eye.”
Here’s what happens to your eyes if you don’t properly winterproof them.
Watery eyes can be annoying and can have you rubbing and wiping your delicate eyelid skin all day. Not only is this damaging to the skin around your eyes; it can also cause eye pain. The vitreous body that acts as a shock absorber can become sore after rubbing your eyes over and over again.
Excessive tearing happens because the cold, dry air outside naturally evaporates the tears that keep your eyes hydrated. Your eyes then reactively create more tears, which can lead to blurry vision, eye rubbing, and discomfort.
Taking a bike ride or going for a run in the cold temperatures can be problematic. The wind resistance alone can cause your eyes to tear, which can make your sport hard to complete and force you to sideline your activity until your eyes feel better.
Your eyes don’t freeze, but your corneas can. While it’s not quite as scary as it sounds, corneal freezing is a form of frostbite that can lead to a few days of serious eye pain. The cornea freezes when exposed to cold temperatures for prolonged periods of time.
The temperature doesn’t matter as much as the length of exposure. The blood vessels in the cornea begin to constrict, causing your cornea to freeze. Most of the time, your corneas will heal on their own, but you’re in for about two days of eye-crippling pain until they do.
Everyone experiences dry eyes on occasion, but if the problem persists, it could create a source of eye pain. In the winter, dry eyes are most common from being indoors with central heaters and space heaters.
If you’re at home and experiencing dry eyes, you can control the level of humidity in your air which may give you some relief. At work, you might not have much control over the quality of the air you breathe. If you find you are constantly relying on artificial tears and eye drops to get you through your day, chances are you're suffering from winter eye dryness.
Just like your skin can burn in the sun, your eyes can burn too. Unlike your skin, however, your eyes don’t have as much protection against the sun. Your skin has melanin that helps protect it, but your eyes don’t. That means UV rays can damage your eyes faster and more severely.
Winter months are especially dangerous for your eyes due to a condition called photokeratitis. Photokeratitis occurs when light reflected off snow or ice enters the eye and burns the cornea and conjunctiva. Commonly, this is referred to as snow blindness.
Snow blindness can occur in just a few minutes, so if you’re going to be outside on the slopes, it’s crucial to protect your eyes from UV rays.
The sun’s rays are all damaging, but here’s how they affect your eyes.
- UVC. These rays are most powerful, but luckily, the atmosphere filters them out so that they don’t have a chance to hurt us. Thanks, atmosphere—we appreciate it.
- UVB. UVB rays are the rays that are responsible for sunburns and skin cancers, including skin cancers of the eyelid.
- UVA rays. These rays penetrate the eye and can reach the retina, making them particularly dangerous for both burns and potential retinal damage.
Your eyes will hurt if you get snow blindness, and the pain and irritation can last for days. If you have eye pain from snow blindness that lasts longer than two days, make an appointment with your optometrist.
We’ll admit, blue light isn’t limited to cold weather, but it’s still a concern you should be protected against in the winter months. Blue light is part of the invisible light spectrum (like UV rays) that can penetrate your eye and reach the retina.
Blue light is emitted from the sun, but the main source of blue light we are exposed to is from artificial forms of light like:
- Fluorescent lights
- LED lights and televisions
- Tablets and computers
Sitting in front of a computer all day can expose your eyes to blue light for endless hours. Blue light can make your eyes feel tired and fatigued. It could even result in tension headaches and eye pain. Eye strain can be confused with a need for a different prescription, but blue light glasses could be a better solution.
Whether you’re on the slopes or just shoveling snow, your eyes are at risk of catching debris that could leave you with a painful injury and even cost you your vision. It just isn’t worth it.
Make the decision to wear eye protection so that you don’t have to worry about a snowball that contains a rogue pebble blinding you for the rest of your life.
How To Prevent Winter Eye Pain
You already know the reasons why eye protection is so important, but it can be confusing to decide what kind of eye protection you need. For most outdoor activities and for sitting behind your desk in a heated environment, safety glasses are the solution.
Every pair of safety glasses should be outfitted with a few basic protective features.
UV Blocking Lenses
Your safety glasses should block UV light, even if they aren’t sunglasses. UV protection is different from shade. Shade only makes it feel comfortable for you to see when you’re in bright light. UV protection filters out UV rays keeping your eyes safe.
If you need shade and UV protection, SunStoggles are your go-to. They’re stylish, beautifully darkened, and made from polycarbonate, which is naturally UV blocking.
Impact resistance is important for eye protection and to prevent you from sustaining a painful eye injury. Your regular eyeglasses and sunglasses likely don’t have impact resistance, which means if you are struck with a piece of flying debris, you could end up with shattered glasses and a damaged eye.
Stoggles are certified impact resistant according to the industry standard, ANSI Z87.1. This standard ensures that even when struck with force with a weighted object, your glasses won’t break or shatter.
Blue Light Blocking
Blue light blocking lenses should be industry standard for every pair of glasses manufactured. Blue light is just that immersive and pervasive. Until that’s a legal requirement, grab a pair of Stoggles.
Both our regular Stoggles and SunStoggles are coated with blue light-blocking material, so you don’t have to worry about eye pain, even if you’re catching up on client emails until 1:00 a.m.
Going outside and inside in the winter exposes you to extreme temperature differentials, and that creates an opportunity for your glasses to fog. Fogging glasses can take you out of the game and put your eyes at risk while you remove them to wipe away the condensation.
Instead, make sure your glasses have anti-fog lenses that resist fog in all conditions. You’ll never need to remove them or wipe them, and you’ll have clear vision while wearing them.
Side and Top Shields
In addition to impact resistance, side and top shields also offer protection for your eyes where regular glasses and sunglasses leave them vulnerable. Side and top shields help prevent debris from entering above your eyes near your brow and on your temples.
These shields also help better protect your eye against UV rays from reflected snow, which is beneficial, especially if you’re outside a lot during a snowy winter.
Stay Chill—We’ve Got This
Eye pain in cold weather can happen for various reasons. Colder temperatures, heavy winds, reflected UV light from snow and ice could all create eye issues that result in pain and discomfort. You can tackle the winter months pain-free by winterizing your eyes with a great pair of safety glasses.
We don’t mean to brag, but Stoggles has the best. Our safety glasses were created so that you never have to make a choice between style and safety. Our glasses are available in several different shapes and numerous colors, so you can customize your look to fit your mood or activity.
Keep your eyes in great shape this winter, and keep your eye jelly safe. Stoggles are the glasses that keep your eyes protected and pain-free in all weather conditions.
Pitt Scientists who Regrew Retina Cells to Restore Vision in Tiny Fish set their Sights on Humans - UPMC & Pitt Health Sciences News Blog
Winter UV Eye Safety: Prevent Snow Blindness and Other Conditions - American Academy of Ophthalmology