Depending on where you live, winter weather has already started settling in. Each winter, cold weather presents issues for even the healthiest eyes. Take a look at three of the most common winter eye health issues and how to prevent them.
Common winter eye health issue #1: Damaging UV rays
During the summer, most people understand the importance of protecting their skin and eyes from the sun’s damaging rays, but too often these risks are overlooked during the winter months. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, exposure to UV radiation can occur on cloudy days. Specifically, in the northern hemisphere during late winter and early spring, the highest UV radiation exposure is during midday. Additionally, UV radiation exposure increases with elevation, which can make skiers and snowboarders more susceptible to sun damage than summertime beach goers.
UV light can increase the risk of skin cancer, cataracts, macular degeneration, and even snow blindness. The danger of UV exposure, particularly during the winter, is that snow gives your eyes a double-dose of UV light with direct UV rays and reflected rays from the snow. And according to All About Vision, snow can reflect more than 80 percent of the UV rays that fall upon it.
Winter weather conditions are important to consider when choosing proper eye protection for skiing or participating in other winter sports. Protect your eyes against dangerous UV rays coming from the sun and the snow by wearing sunglasses or protective sport goggles during the winter weather.
Common winter eye health issue #2: Dry eyes
Dry eyes are the most common issue experienced during the colder winter months. Indoor heating, along with winter weather conditions, causes the humidity levels to drop. The lack of humidity in the air can cause dry, itchy, and burning eyes. According to the American Optometric Association,
“Dry eye is a condition in which a person doesn’t have enough quality tears to lubricate and nourish the eye. Tears are necessary for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye and for providing clear vision.”
Most of the time, moisturizing drops will relieve dry eye irritation, but your optometrist can provide over-the-counter moisture drops for mild cases and write a prescription for more severe cases of dry eye. Wear wraparound sunglasses or other protective eyewear, as eyewear can be used to block wind and dry air that cause dry eyes.
Common winter eye health issue #3: Figuring out your benefits
Winter also means that many 2016 benefits will be expiring soon, and you’ll have new benefits for 2017. There are two types of health benefits packages: insurance benefits from your employer and a flexible spending account (FSA). It’s important to note that most employee benefit packages expire at the end of the year. The good news is both types of plans cover the cost of an annual comprehensive eye exam and either contact lenses, glasses or prescription sunglasses.
Most employers purchase vision benefits packages, which include a fixed set of benefits related to eye health and maintenance. While some plans end in March, the majority of insurance benefit plans end in December, meaning, whatever benefits you don’t use for the year, you lose. If you have yet to schedule your annual eye exam or purchase a new pair of frames, schedule an appointment with your optometrist.
Flexible Spending Account (FSA)
FSA is “pre-tax”—so your pre-tax dollars are automatically deducted by your employer—and you don’t have to pay taxes on these healthcare dollars. Health savings accounts, health reimbursement accounts, or “cafeteria” plans work the same way. Depending on your employer’s plan, there may be three different features your end-of-year spending: carryovers, grace period extensions, and run-out periods:
- If you don’t spend all your FSA funds in this plan year, a carryover allows you to carry over up to $500 of unused funds into the next year. It is important to note, if money is left in your FSA after the $500 carryover is deducted, you lose those funds.
- Grace Period Extensions ensure you have the opportunity to maximize your FSA funds and avoid forfeiting through the ‘Use It or Lose It’ rule. This feature is meant to be used when your health expenses are lower than expected. In this case, there is a deadline, usually March 30th, when you must use last year’s funds or lose them.
- Run-Out Periods are pre-determined timeframes after the year ends when you can file FSA claims for expenses acquired throughout the year. When the run-out period is over, you forfeit any unused funds, unless your FSA has a carryover feature.
Before winter weather is in full force, evaluate your vision benefits and think about protecting your eyes, especially if you’re an outdoor enthusiast and plan to be active this winter.