Winter can be a great time a year for many reasons: Christmas, snow days, New Year’s, and the Super Bowl. But, there’s a few challenges that come along with winter as well. Winter Dry Eye Syndrome is something I see pretty often in my clinic. And just like winter colds and sniffles, Winter Dry Eye is not a fun thing to endure.
Dry eye symptoms during this time of the year may range from mild discomfort and redness to severe discomfort, itchiness, sandy feeling, bloodshot eyes, and burning. It’s not uncommon for Winter Dry Eye Syndrome to cause vision fluctuations, especially in the afternoon and evening hours. The root of seasonal dry eyes in winter time is the cold weather, of course. When the weather is colder, there is less humidity or moisture in the air. Cold weather means heaters are on in the house and car as well. This has two effects. First, it further decreases the humidity in the air. Second, it usually means warm dry air is blowing at or near our eyes.
Here’s 3 Crucial Tips for Surviving the Winter Dry Eye Season
Use a good quality artificial tear and use it often
At the heart of Winter Dry Eye Syndrome is a lack of moisture on the surface of the eye. A pretty obvious fix is to get more moisture on the eye. Pretty simple, right? Not so fast. Not all over-the-counter tears drops are the same. First, anything that says “gets the red out” should be avoided. These “red eye” drops have chemicals which can constrict blood vessels and they can have “rebound effect,” meaning that once you stop them the redness may actually get worse than when you started. Not good. Instead, a good quality artificial tear drop is best. Don’t go generic, either. The investment in a name brand solution is worth it. Two brands that I often recommend in my clinic are Systane and Refresh. They come in solutions and gels. Gels are thicker and may last longer, although there is slight blurring for a minute or so after using. Try using the drops consistently 3 to 4 times a day. This is really a critical first line of treatment for Winter Dry Eye Syndrome.
If this regimen doesn’t relieve the symptoms, go with a “preservative free” version of the drops and increase to every two hours. At this point, a visit to the eye doctor is also recommended. The eye doctor will fully assess the situation and advise a more customized treatment plan. This could include more appropriate OTC drops, prescription drops, or tear savers inserted into the drainage ducts of the eye. Please don’t ignore symptoms that persist. That means something is wrong.
Increase humidity in your house by using a vapor or steam humidifier
While you can’t control the humidity outdoors, increasing the humidity in the house is possible. Even improving the humidity levels by 50% could provide a significant amount of relief for Winter Dry Eye Syndrome. Vaporizers or steam humidifiers can be very effective in increasing the humidity levels in the house. Steam humidifiers should be placed in such a way not to risk injury to people. Using cool mist machines should be avoided due to risk of allergens and aerosol contamination with microorganisms. Lastly, be sure to read and follow general use and sanitizing instructions that come with the units.
Adjust air vents and consider a dry eye sleeping mask
During the winter time, it’s not uncommon for the heater to run almost all night. If this warm, dry air is pointed at the upper half of your body while you sleep, it could be worsening Winter Dry Eye Syndrome. If this is the case, try to adjust air flow from vents to point away from the sleeping area. Staying warm with an extra blanket is better than having warm air from vents make your eyes even drier when you wake up in the morning. If you sleep with a nearby or overhead fan on, winter may be a good time to keep it off as well.
Another twist on the winter night time routine is a dry eye sleeping mask. While sleeping masks have been around for a long time, there are ones specifically designed for patients with dry eyes. They seek to form a comfortable seal around the eyes to decrease humidity loss and lessen the eyes from drying overnight. There are several different brands and designs available.
I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please send me a comment or share it on facebook. Bottom line is that, while Winter Dry Eye Syndrome is expected, there are ways to lessen its effect. Also, please involve your eye doctor in this process. He or she will be able to customize a solution to your needs that will be much more effective should symptoms be bothersome.