Thursday, December 17, 2020

“Mountaineering and health” (8)

"Proper snow spectacles are the most efficient preventive"
Photo courtesy of the American Alpine Club library (via Flickr)

Advice from a mountaineering medic of the silver age

Snow-blindness is a more serious affection. The commonest form is essentially an ophthalmia-that is to say, inflammation of the mucous covering of the eye and inner lining of the eyelids. The eyes become greatly bloodshot and very sensitive to light;there is a free watery discharge which gums the margins of the eyelids together; the slightest endeavour to use the eyes causes a copious flow of tears. The trouble usually subsides after a day or two, though sometimes the eyes remain weak and sensitive for days, or even for months.

A more serious form of snow-blindness is an affection of the deeper parts of the eye. Here there is much less superficial inflammation, but extreme intolerance of light. The symptoms are much graver and the effects pass away much more slowly. Both forms are tolerably familiar to those engaged in electric lighting work. 

As in the case of sunburn, vaporous misty days do not render the mountaineer exempt from snow-blindness. Proper snow spectacles are most efficient preventives. They should be put on before the glare begins to be felt. 

A five per cent solution of cocaine dissolved in rose-water, and with a little boric acid added, acts like a charm in snow-ophthalmia. It is not easy, unless the right method is adopted, to introduce the fluid into the eye, for directly the lids are separated a gush of tears ensues and washes out all the lotion. The sufferer should be directed to lie down with the back of his head to the light and with the eyes closed; a few drops of the solution are then poured into the little depression which is above the inner angle of the eyelids by the side of the nose. 

If the eye is then covered, and the sufferer directed to blink the lids a few times the fluid will be drawn in. Cold compresses give a good deal of relief. For the more serious snow-blindness, prolonged rest of the eye is really the only means of cure.


C T Dent’s Chapter III in the Badminton Library Series on Mountaineering, third edition (1901).

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