Spring is the season when many skiers believe the ultimate ski conditions exist - snow and sun.

Officials of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, however, warn that this combination is the ideal setting for a severe case of snow blindness.Caused by an overexposure of ultraviolet sunlight to the eye's delicate tissues, snow blindness can make eye red, itchy and extremely sensitive to light.

"It feels like someone has taken a piece of sandpaper and rubbed it against the outside of the eye - it is excruciatingly painful," said Dr. Randall J. Olson, chairman of ophthalmology at the University of Utah.

According to Olson, snow blindness - also known as ultraviolet keratoconjunctivitis - can be prevented by wearing goggles or glasses that filter out 100 percent of the ultraviolet light produced by the sun. Wrap-around eye gear is most desirable since it prevents light seepage around the lenses.

There is no specific treatment for snow blindness except time.

Olson said symptoms usually disappear in a couple of days.

Shopping for shades

- Check for a manufacturer's label indicating whether the sunglasses are UV-absorbent, or if they meet the American National Standards Institute's guidelines for eye wear.

- Lens color should cause as little color distortion as possible. Dark grey or dark green tints permit the most normal color vision.

- The price of the sunglasses is absolutely no indication of their ability to absorb UV light.

- Polarized lenses tend to reduce reflection and glare and are especially effective around water and snow.

- Photochromic lenses change color in response to sunlight, often preventing the need for two pairs of prescription glasses.

- The federal Food and Drug Administration requires that all eyeglass lenses, including those for sunglasses, be made of impact-resistant glass or plastic.