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Tips for Treating and Preventing Dry Eye This Winter

Posted on November 10th, 2021

Just as fall allergy season has finally come to an end, we’re now faced with potentially new problems when it comes to eye health. Winter is upon us, which means we’re nearing peak dry eye weather. (Clearly, our eyes can’t seem to catch a break!)

The combination of cool air and dry indoor heating systems creates the perfect storm for eye irritation. It’s really no wonder that dry eyes are a very common complaint during the winter months.

But what causes the pesky condition in the first place? And how can you best cope with it—or, ideally, combat it altogether?

First of all, what are dry eyes?

Dry eye disease is a common eye condition that occurs when either your body is unable to create enough tears to lubricate the eye, there is an imbalance in the tear chemistry, meaning that the tears you do create are lacking the proper constituents needed to provide long lasting lubrication. This can cause discomfort and ultimately damage the eye’s sensitive surface if left untreated.

Common symptoms of dry eye include dry or wet eyes, stinging and burning sensations, redness, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light. Some people only suffer from dry eyes in certain situations, like outdoors on a cold day or in a heavily air-conditioned room, while others who are less lucky deal with more sustained symptoms.

What causes it to happen?

Several things can disrupt your eye’s natural moisture content, but in order to truly understand how your eyes become dry, you must first have a basic understanding of the organ’s anatomy.

Your eyes have a tear film, which is composed of three equally critical layers: fatty oils, aqueous fluid and mucus. If any of the three layers is off balance or disrupted in some way, your eyes run the risk of becoming dry.

Tear film dysfunction can be triggered by various factors beyond just cool winter weather, including hormone changes, allergic eye disease, or autoimmune disease. Other possible contributors are aging, certain medical conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis or vitamin A deficiency), some medications (such as birth control and antidepressants), and contact lens use.

Dry eye treatments

The solution to dry eyes can be as simple as ensuring you are regularly using lubricant eye drops or swapping your contact lenses for a different brand. Although dry eye disease can be difficult to deal with, there are plenty of things you can do to help you prevent scratchy, irritating, and painful symptoms from popping up this winter.

Artificial tears: If your eyes are struggling to naturally produce sufficient moisture content, your best bet is to try artificial tears. Essentially, over-the-counter lubricating eye drops work to restore the natural moisture balance in your eyes. Doctors recommend applying the tears several times daily, though you should always make sure to read the label carefully to ensure you aren’t exceeding the suggested dosage. Our optometrists also recommend looking for preservative-free drops if they are available.

Warm compresses: Believe it or not, a good-old-fashioned warm compress is sometimes enough to treat your dry eye woes. Applying a commercially available warm compress for 10 minutes over your eyes, followed by an eyelid massage after the hot compress, can quickly reduce redness and discomfort and soothe the irritated area as it can help ensure the oil glands produce proper tear constituents.

Humidifier: Investing in an indoor humidifier, especially in your bedroom, is a worthwhile solution to consider, especially if you’re a regular dry eye sufferer in the winter months. Having a humidifier in your home will restore the moisture in the air—most of which has been stripped from using indoor heaters. That being said, if you do choose to have a humidifier in your house, ensure you clean it regularly, as they naturally attract dust, mold, and other bacteria that could lead to more health issues.

Assess eye makeup: You may not know it, but some eye makeup products can trigger or worsen dry eye symptoms and other eye conditions. Hypoallergenic makeup and creams are often low-risk solutions if you wear eye makeup.

Keep your space free of dust: Close your windows at night to prevent excess allergens from entering your home. Clean your furnace filters and air return vents throughout your home for additional allergen reducing benefits. If you have a pet, groom them to reduce dander in the air.

Other tips and tricks

Beyond visiting your nearest drug store to purchase over-the-counter products or investing in a humidifier, there are several other things you can do to not only reduce symptoms, but also prevent winter-induced dry eye from happening in the first place.

  1. Omega-3 fatty acids are a great defence against dry eyes. Try incorporating more nutrient-rich foods into your diet (such as salmon and other cooked fish), or consider taking supplements.
  2. Staying hydrated is truly key to combating chronic dry eye. Always drinking lots of water will help maintain the moisture in your eyes—and your body—on the whole.
  3. Protect your eyes, particularly if you’re out and about in harsh winter conditions. Wear oversized UV protective glasses and a hat to block out the breeze.
  4. Avoid heaters if possible. Obviously freezing is not the answer to dry eye, but try to spend the majority of your day away from strong sources of heat.
  5. Excessive screen use is one of the primary triggers for dry eye, so do your best to take multiple computer breaks throughout the day, and ensure you are blinking regularly.
  6. Contact lenses are convenient for obvious reasons, but if your eyes are dry and irritated, it might be a good idea to take a break from contacts and pivot temporarily to glasses.
  7. While it can be tempting at times, especially when experiencing dry eye symptoms, rubbing your eyes is just about the worst thing you can do when suffering from dryness. Avoid touching your eye area, as it could lead to further irritation.

When to see your optometrist

If pain persists despite trying over-the-counter medications and taking other preventative measures, it’s a good idea to reach out to your optometrist to determine whether there is a deeper underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

Have more questions about dry eye, or experiencing it yourself? We can help! Book your appointment at your local FYidoctors today.