Sun and snow – the hidden dangers

Every day Travelvax Australia’s experts field questions on all kinds of travel health topics. Not surprisingly, skiing is rarely among them.

True, the most popular ski fields are in developed countries, which greatly reduces the number of potential disease risks. So, almost invariably, the list of routine or recommended vaccinations is short.
But, as pristine as those brilliant white slopes look, there’s more than just bruises, sprains and fractures to be concerned with.

A few glaring facts

Even a brief exposure to the sun on snow at higher altitudes can leave your eyes and skin permanently damaged.
Did you know:
That’s much higher than the reflection off sand, water, or cement.
When you are skiing in mountainous, snow-covered terrain, reflected sunlight hits your eyes from all angles – from the sun above and off the snow all around you.
The higher your elevation, the less atmospheric pressure there is to filter out harmful UV radiation. With every 1000 metres increase in altitude, UV levels increase by 10% to 12%.

Early sun damage becomes apparent later

Excessive exposure to UV rays can cause damage to the cornea of your eye, the transparent lens that covers the iris, pupil, and anterior chamber.
When it occurs on snow, the condition is called photokeratitis or ‘snow blindness’.
Although painful, snow blindness is short-lived – lasting a few days at most.
However, eye damage occurs with EVERY over-exposure to the sun’s ultra violet (UV) rays, just as sunburn slowly and irrevocably damages our skin over time.
For the eyes, this long-term damage can ultimately lead to common conditions like cataracts (clouding of the eyes’ lens), pterygium (growth of a membrane across the eye), and macular degeneration (AMD) later in life.

Invest in eye protection

It’s tempting to hit the ski fields wearing your everyday sunglasses – especially if they’re fitted with prescription lenses. But, they are simply not up to the job of protecting your eyes when you’re on the snow.
To prevent UV radiation reflected off snow, put substance ahead of style and invest in glasses that:
– Provide 100% protection against both UV-A and UV-B radiation.
– Fit your face snugly from your eyebrows to the middle of your cheeks
– Wrap around your face so UV rays, wind and branches can’t reach your eyes from the side.
The best choices are either polarised or dark, mirror-coated sunglasses, or glacier goggles. Glacier goggles fit like sunglasses, but have deep sides made of plastic or other material to block out light.
Ensure that your eyewear meets Australian Standard AS1067, which ensures they will block at least 95% of UV radiation. Talk to a knowledgeable eyewear retailer or your optometrist.

Don’t forget your skin too!

The sun protection message in Australia has expanded from Slip! Slop! Slap! to also include Seek! (shade) and Slide! (on sunglasses). The advice is just as relevant for skiers and snowboarders as for beachgoers.
Even in on a cloudy day, sunscreen should be applied at a rate of 2mg per square centimetre of exposed skin.
Properly applied, a sunscreen with a +15 SPF (sun protection factor) will protect you from 93% of UVB radiation; while SPF +30 protects against 97% of UVB; and SPF +50 offers protection against 98% of UVB.
SPF 30+ is the recommended sunscreen for fair-skinned people who burn frequently and rarely (or never) tan. For those with light-intermediate, olive, brown, or black skin who tan easily and rarely (if ever) get sunburned, SPF 15+ offers enough protection. 
The effects of excessive UV exposure accumulate over time, becoming apparent years – even decades – later in the form of reduced vision or potentially fatal skin cancers.
Don’t pay a high price for skin and eye damage that’s easily prevented.

Got a question about staying healthy on an upcoming overseas trip? Call Travelvax Australia’s telephone advisory service on 1300 360 164 (toll-free from landlines) for no-obligation, country-specific advice. You can also make an appointment at your nearest Travelvax clinic to obtain vaccinations, medication to prevent or treat illness, and accessories for your journey.