With cold winter temperatures come wind, dry indoor air and blasting heat, all of which can be annoying for your eyes. In fact, the season is the most common time of year that people complain about dry, itchy and watery eyes. Some people also experience temporary blurry vision, feel like there’s a foreign object in their eyes or complain of fatigue.
The good news is that even if it’s miserable outside, you can still find relief from dry winter eyes with these tips.
1. See your doctor.
Since an occasional bout of dry eyes can eventually progress into dry eye syndrome or dry eye disease— which the National Institutes of Health estimate affects 3.2 million women 50 and older and 1.68 million men age 50 and older— it’s important to have your eyes evaluated.
Your doctor can determine if you don’t have enough water (known as aqueous tear-deficient dry eye), or not enough oil (known as evaporative dry eye or meibomian gland dysfunction). Many times, evaporative dry eye occurs because the oils are thick and not able to be expressed out of the glands, said Dr. Leslie E. O'Dell, director of the Dry Eye Center of Pennsylvania in Mechanicsburg and Manchester. And because of the wind and dry indoor heat in the winter, symptoms tend to be worse.
Depending on the type of dry eye, your doctor may prescribe Restasis, a prescription medication or a low-dose steroid eye drop, or try tear duct plugs or an in-office treatment.
2. Divert heat.
If you notice that your eyes tear up while driving or when you’re indoors, chances are it’s because the heat blasting in your face is causing your eyes to dry out a lot faster and the tear film to evaporate, said Dr. Neeti Parikh, an attending physician in the ophthalmology department at Montefiore Health System in New York City. This “reflex tearing,” is your body’s defense mechanism to keep your eyes hydrated at all times.
To keep your eyes moisturized, point the heat vents in your car away from your eyes and always use a humidifier in your home.
3. Choose eye drops wisely.
Artificial tears lubricant ointments are effective and can be used up to four times a day. If you need drops more often, use preservative-free tears that you can use as many times as you need to. Be sure to stay away from those that tout redness relief because they’re more irritating.
4. Try omega-3 fatty acids.
A fish oil supplement helps to improve the health of the glands, the quality of tear film and has also been shown to thin out the oil gland secretions, although it could take up to 3 months to see any improvement. Aim for 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams a day and be sure to ask your doctor or a nutritionist to recommend a reputable brand.
5. Clean up your make-up bag.
Dry eyes are common in post-menopausal women because of hormonal changes but makeup is a big culprit too.
Avoid waterproof eye makeup because it’s hard to remove and abrasive makeup remover which can strip the natural oils from the surface of the eye. A better alternative? Coconut oil. Ask your doctor about retinols, which are found in many anti-aging creams, because they may also contribute to dry eyes.
6. Take blink breaks.
According to a report by The Vision Council, approximately 22 percent of people said they had dry eye because of digital eyestrain. That’s because when you stare at the screen, you blink about 50 percent less and that blink is what distributes the tear across the surface of your eye, O’Dell said.
Follow the 20-20-20 rule: look away from your screen every 20 minutes for at least 20 seconds at something 20 feet away. Or download an app such as the Donald Korb Blink Training app, which will remind you to take a break and show you how to “exercise” your eyes.
7. Apply a warm compress
If you have meibomian gland dysfunction, a warm compress can help open up clogged glands, yet a warm wash cloth hasn’t been shown to be all that effective, O’Dell said. Some companies like Bruder and Tranquileyes sell products that are safe and stay at the right temperature for the right amount of time. Also, it’s important to clean debris from your lashes with baby shampoo and warm water or with a special lid cleanser.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.