Snowblindness, particularly at altitude, as most of us already know, is not really temporary blindness brought on by the environment but rather the eye getting too much sun like your back at the beach. It’s sunburn. And it can be extremely painful.
Preventing the condition from ocurring from wearing proper UV protected shades is critical. These can also help if damage is already done. Glacier style goggles or shades that cover all sides of the eyes are best to prevent the UV rays from getting to your sunburn eyes further. The Mountaineers’ Mountaineering First Aid, 4th Edition, also recommends using tape to cover the lenses and leaving only slits to also reduce uncessary exposure to light.
Treating snowblindness has come a long way since the first ascent of Mont Blanc in the 1780s when mountaineering was born. Placing cotton or foam pads over the eyes, after removing contact lenses, for about 12 hours is required and using anti-inflamatory pain relievers like aspirin or Ibuprofin may also be used, according to the same guidebook.
But Dr. Michel-Gabriel Paccard, who made the first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786 with a single porter, Jacque Balmat, had a different solution for the newly discovered condition. According to the great T. Graham Brown and Sir Gavin de Beer, FRS, in The First Ascent of Mont Blanc published in 1957, Balmat, serving as a guide on a subsequent attempt in the following years, recommended to a gentleman climber who complained of sudden blindness that it was really “due to the reflection of light from the snow,” and that it would go away, but to treat it with the froth of beer once he gets home. This was Dr. Paccard’s own recommended treatment.
While I don’t recommend trying it as a salve or remedy, the notion that beer cures all astounds me once again. Brown and de Beers don’t record this but I believe Balmat went on to direct this snowblind patient that after using the froth on his eyes to then down the beer as he sees fit. But this is only logical speculation on my part.
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