The Most Common Eye Disorders Found in Climbers


****DISCLAIMER:  For informational purposes only. Readers should report any discomfort or pain to their eyes to their doctor.


Solar radiation is estimated to increase in intensity by 10% at every 1,000 m altitude threshold. Exposing oneself (and one's eyes) to UVB rays at these heights is particularly dangerous. It can never be said enough: neglecting to wear sunglasses in high-altitude light environments can lead to permanent eye damage. 
The 4 most common eye disorders among climbers are: photokeratitis or snow blindness, erythropsia, white-out syndrome, and corneal frostbiteAll of these disorders can be prevented by making sure proper eyewear is part of your equipment when setting out into high-altitude light environments.



1- Photokeratitis or Snow Blindness

Condition & Cause: Erosion of the epithelium (the layer of surface cells covering the cornea), caused by extended exposure to intense light (high UVB radiation).

Symptoms: 4 to 6 hrs after exposure, you will feel pain and a granular sensation under the eyelids. You will also experience photophobia (pain increased when in the presence of light). Conjunctival redness, excessive tear secretion, swelling of the eyelids and difficulty opening the eyes, as well as intense blepharospasm (involuntary blinking of the eye), are also symptoms.

Treatment: Rest in a dark room / eye patch(es) / application of an antiseptic eye wash and ophthalmic ointment. During recovery, avoid eye washes containing an anaesthetic. Contact lenses must not be worn for 4 to 5 days.

2- Erythropsia

Condition & Cause: Exhaustion of the retina resulting from prolonged exposure to intense light stimulation. This disorder is rarer than snow blindness.

Symptoms: Objects take on an abnormal reddish hue.

Treatment: Rest in a dark room, application of eye patches and ophthalmic ointment

Snow blindness and erythropsia do not have long-term after-effects if treated in time. However, snow blindness can endanger the lives of mountaineers in high-altitude environments by depriving them of their vision while mountaineering.

3- White-out Syndrome

Condition & Cause: Frostbite of the eye or eyelids as a result of being exposed to extremely cold temperatures.

Symptoms: Initially, you will experience pain, blurred vision, photophobia and excessive tear secretion, or even a total loss of vision. Later, symptoms include a reduced visual acuity that is associated with a loss of depth perception  resulting in disorientation and sensations of vertigo on the field.

Treatment: Protecting the eyes from cold, and warming them up should ensure good recovery.

4- Corneal Frostbite

Condition & Cause: The temperature of the cornea is reduced to a temperature between 29 and 36 °C. Extreme cold and/or snow combined with wind can lead to frostbite of the cornea.

Symptoms: At first you will experience blurred vision, excessive tear secretion, photophobia or even a total loss of vision. Later, symptoms include a reduced visual acuity associated with a loss of perception of depth perception resulting in disorientation and sensations of vertigo on the field.

Treatment: Removal from the cold. Eye patch(es) and gradual passive heating  for 2 to 3 days. Tip while on the field: use a warm teabag to heat up the eye.

Warning: If not treated correctly, corneal frostbite can lead to necrosis and you could even lose your eye.



Remember that all of these disorders can be prevented by wearing equipment suitable for high-altitude conditions. Julbo has developed a range of products specially adapted to the conditions mountaineers find themselves in. Our protective eyewear is equipped with Category 4 lenses, wraparound frames and protective side shields. Check out our mountain collection


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