Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful!
Wintertime brings a lot of great things like the holidays, sipping hot cider, and cozying up to the fireplace, and some not-so-great things like chillier temperatures, cold wind, and ice. Brisk winds don’t just dry out skin and chap lips; our eyes take a hit from the colder weather too. We bundle up and apply lotion to protect our bodies, hands, and face from the cold, but sometimes we forget our eyes are sensitive to the changing seasons as well. Being exposed to cold winds outside, lower humidity, and indoor heating causes moisture to evaporate from our eyes faster than normal, and our eyes simply cannot produce tears quickly enough to stay hydrated. This can result in dry eye symptoms, such as itchy, gritty, irritated eyes, pain, burning, or, counterintuitively, watery eyes. Read on to learn about causes of dry eye symptoms in the winter that you may not be aware of and some tips to help prevent and treat those conditions.
But the Fire is so Delightful…
When we turn up the thermostat, we also lower the humidity in our homes. The colder months already bring a reduction in humidity outside, so the hot air blowing through our vents decreases indoor humidity to the point where the air in our homes is often drier than the air outside. Enjoying a roaring fire in the fireplace is a wonderful wintertime activity, but that too can dry out the air in your house. Here are some easy home environment tips to help reduce eye dryness:
- Limit the number of fires you build, always make sure you have good ventilation, and avoid sitting directly in front of the fire.
- If you use a hairdryer, avoid blowing the air directly in your face.
- Make sure your furniture is placed where a vent is not blowing on you. Avoid sitting or sleeping too close to heaters and heating vents.
- If you use a space heater, make sure it is pointed at your body or feet, not your face.
- Use a humidifier to help restore moisture to the air around you.
And Since We’ve No Place to Go…Thanks, COVID-19!
Many people become homebodies in the winter, getting out less often because of the chilly temperatures, snow, and ice, but this year more people will be getting out less both socially and because they are working and schooling from home. More time in our homes means increased screen time and more exposure to lower humidity and indoor heat. To help prevent or treat dry eye symptoms, follow these suggestions:
- Artificial tears can be a preventative measure by using them before your eyes begin to feel dry and you can apply them several times throughout the day. It is better to use preservative-free drops because those with preservatives may irritate your eyes when applied frequently. If you are wearing contact lenses, make sure you purchase drops that are specifically made for them. If you find yourself using artificial tears more than six times a day, talk to your optometrist about prescription alternatives.
- Eye ointments are denser than eyedrops and are usually applied to your inner lower lash line to help relieve dry eye. Because they are thicker, ointments can make your vision blurry so it is best to apply them at bedtime.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Avoid drinking too much caffeine and opt for herbal teas or fruit-infused water if plain water does not appeal to you. Milk and 100% real fruit and vegetable juices are also great choices to keep yourself hydrated, along with eating fluid-rich foods like soup, raw fruits, and vegetables.
- Warm compresses will help ease discomfort when your eyes are irritated and dry. Soak a washcloth in warm water and place it over the eyelids for two to three minutes. Try incorporating this into your morning and nighttime routines as a dry eye preventative technique, or to provide stressed eyes with much-needed soothing and rest.
- With increased screen time, be sure to give your eyes frequent breaks. When we blink, tear film is distributed over the eye to keep it moist, but we tend to blink less often when on the computer or looking at other screens, leading to dry, tired eyes. Use the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds to give your eyes a rest and try to consciously think of blinking more often while on the computer or your devices.
- If you wear contact lenses, consider wearing your glasses more often since contacts tend to irritate dry eyes. Glasses also provide at least somewhat of a barrier between your eyes and the wind outside or blowing air from indoor heating. If you wear contact lenses, remember to practice good contact lens hygiene.
You may have to use a combination of the above measures for best results, but if you try these and still have severe and/or persistent dry eye symptoms, talk to your optometrist about treatment options.
Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let it Snow!
We cannot do anything about the weather, so we may as well embrace it! When you get out to enjoy the things winter has to offer, use the following tips to help protect your eyes.
- Defrost your car ahead of time. The defroster on your car can bounce air off the windshield and directly into your eyes, so it is best if you can have it off while you are in your car. If you must use the defroster while driving, wear sunglasses to help deflect some of the airflow from your eyes.
- Turn your car vents toward your lower body or have the heater only directed to your feet.
- Wear UV-blocking sunglasses when you go outside to protect your eyes from sun, wind, and extra glare from snow. Wrap-around sunglasses are an even better choice and you can also wear a hat with a visor.
- Stand back from outdoor fires and try to position yourself upwind so the smoke is blowing away from you and not into your eyes.
When to See Your Optometrist
Fortunately, most home treatments will relieve symptoms of dry eye caused or intensified by wintry conditions; however, continued signs of dry eye can indicate a serious eye health issue and can lead to eye infections or damage to the eye. If you are experiencing persistent symptoms or have sharp pain in your eyes, visit your optometrist for an exam and professional consultation.