As a downtown optometrist I’m frequently asked about dry eye, a common condition that can be quite irritating. Some patients ask if it’s just their imagination or if dry eye is worse in the winter. Do dry eye sufferers fare worse in the winter? If so, why? What can be done to prevent dry eye? For the answers to these and other questions about dry eye in the winter read on…
What is dry eye?
When the natural moisture in your eyes is reduced, by factors such as weather, hormones, and certain medications, it can cause irritation often resulting in a burning or itching sensation. Sometimes it feels as though there’s a foreign object in your eye and for some, dry eyes can even cause excessive tearing, as your eyes try to overcompensate for their lack of protective tears. Prolonged, untreated dry eyes can lead to blurred vision as well.
Whatever the symptoms, dry eyes can cause significant discomfort during the long winters and relief can seriously improve your quality of life.
Are dry eyes worse in winter?
In a word, yes. As temperatures plummet and indoor heating is cranked it can take a toll on our skin, and hair, causing us to suffer from dryness. Our eyes are no different. They are also affected by the constant temperature changes, lack of sunlight and possible longer hours spent on screens as we spend more time indoors hibernating. Netflix marathon anyone?
Dry eyes can be caused by allergies, aging, and changes in seasons. Sometimes it is a sign of allergy related dry eye, most common in spring and fall, aggravated by pollens in the spring and in fall by colder air and pollens. According to Healthline.com, one study of Bostonians with chronic dry eye found that complaints about dry eye varied significantly by season but peaked in the winter. In summer, the researchers saw the fewest complaints.
Why are my eyes dry in the winter?
Dry eye symptoms are at their worst during the coldest season as the air is drier indoors and out. Furnaces blasting hot air keep us warm and comfortable but can make the air dry, aggravating/causing dry eyes. Winter is also cold/flu season and taking decongestants and other over-the-counter cold medicines can worsen dry eye.
How do you prevent dry eyes in the winter?
Here are some tips that may help you prevent/treat your dry eyes this winter:
Get a humidifier: You may curse the humidity in the summer when your hair is frizzing but that humidity helps your eyes maintain their moisture balance. It’s not a surprise that summer has the least amount of complaints from dry eye sufferers. You can’t make it summer but you can increase the humidity in your home by adding a humidifier.
Practise good hygiene: Try to avoid getting sick by frequently washing your hands especially after being out in public, and try not to rely on cold medicines for symptom relief if you can help it.
Protect your eyes: If you know you are going to be venturing into harsh weather conditions, such as extreme cold or wind, make sure you wear protection. Wear protective goggles during winter sports to shield eyes and prevent moisture loss. Try large, 100% UV protective eyeglasses and a hat with a visor to keep the wind and particles from getting near your eyes.
Use drops: To keep eyes moist, apply artificial tears/eyedrops a few times a day. Here is a list of some brands outlined by allaboutvision.com. If you have chronic dry eyes, speak to us, your Toronto optometrist about the best product for your condition.
Drink more: Not alcohol. Alcohol can be dehydrating and we tend to drink more in the winter months due to holiday festivities. Avoiding alcohol and drinking a lot of fluids such as water, will help keep you hydrated and help maintain the moisture in your eyes.
Limit screen time: Remember that Netflix marathon I mentioned? We all tend to spend more time on screens in the winter months, the result of more time being cooped up indoors, but staring at a computer/digital device for extended time periods can contribute to your dry eyes. If you can’t limit screen time try to practise the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Make a spectacle of yourself: If you wear contacts, you might want to take a break and wear glasses for a few days. (Our annex optometrist office offers many stylish options of frames for you to choose from, don’t worry.) If your dry eyes are chronic ask us about contact lenses for dry eyes.
Don’t rub your eyes! While rubbing a genie lamp will get you three wishes, rubbing your eyes will only increase irritation and can also lead to infections if your hands are not clean.
Now that you know why your eyes are drier in the winter and what you can do about it, hopefully you’ll experience some relief. If not, be sure to visit your Toronto optometrist, (us!) about dry eye symptoms, and ask what can be done.