|Home Sweet Home at 50 Below | Northern Cuisine | Healing Hands | Northern Light|
"As the sun rises higher and has more power in the months of March and April, to walk long over the snow in the sunlight becomes distressing to the eyes from the dazzling brightness."
"The effect of this is to produce after a time, acute inflammation of the eyes. These in the end may be so entirely closed as to involve temporary blindness, accompanied by much smarting pain."
imagine your eyelids packed solid full of cambric needles, all pointing inward and each one pricking every time you wink
I wasn't entirely blind but I couldn't see very well."
These graphic descriptions illustrate the painful effects of snow blindness; intolerance to light caused by exposure of the eyes to ultraviolet rays reflected off the snow or ice.
Many of the missionaries and whalers who went to the North suffered from varying degrees of snow blindness. Isaac Stringer was, at one time, so severely affected by snow blindness that he had to leave the North for a few months in order to recuperate.
On site treatment for snow blindness varied. The whalers found that drops of molasses or fine sugar in the eyes worked, but not very well. Boracic acid was found to be completely ineffective. The Inuvialuit would sometimes flood the eyes with smoke from burning heather. According to Bompas, the cure was as bad as the ailment.
" The inflammation generally lasts three days after which it gradually subsides. In the meantime it may be ameliorated by dropping one drop of laudanum into the eye, though the sensation of this is like an application of liquid fire".
The best medicine for snow blindness was preventive medicine. Initially the whalers wore smoked eyeglasses, but switched to the snow goggles used by the Inuvialuit which they found to be more effective. The Inuvialuit made their snow goggles by hollowing out a piece of wood and cutting narrow slits, about 1½ inches long, in the surface. The insides of the goggles and the slits were blackened which caught the light, deadening the glare. These goggles allowed a good field of vision but protected the eyes from the damaging reflective light.
© Old Log Church Museum 2002