If you have chronic dry eye, you’re not alone. This uncomfortable condition affects nearly 16 million Americans, and women twice as often as men. Dry eye develops when your tears don’t moisturize your eyes properly. This can lead to several uncomfortable symptoms that grow even worse in certain environments and during winter.
At Vision Corner in Houston, Texas, optometrist and dry eye specialist Sophia Barnes, OD and her team understand how hard it can be to live with dry eye. They offer the following tips to keep your eyes feeling their best all winter.
Your tears do more than show emotion. They keep your eyes lubricated with a unique mixture of water, mucus, and fatty oils. This solution protects your eyes and also keeps its surface smooth and clear.
When your tears don’t provide this lubrication, you can develop several uncomfortable symptoms, including:
These dry eye symptoms are more than uncomfortable: They can also damage the surface of your eye.
Unfortunately, when you suffer from dry eye, it can become a chronic condition that gets even worse during the winter. And it’s not just because of the cold. When the mercury drops, the first response is typically to turn up the heat. But this response not only dries out the air around you, but it also dries out your eyes even more.
To avoid the discomfort of winter dry eye, Dr. Barnes has several simple solutions that will provide fast relief.
When you turn on your heat, it not only warms up the room, but it also dries out the air. Now, we’re not saying you have to live in the cold, but you should take steps to protect your dry eyes from becoming even drier.
Avoid having heat blasting directly into your face, even on short trips in your car. When you sit in front of a heat source that’s blowing in your eyes, it can dry them out even faster and cause your protective tear film layer to evaporate off of your eye. To avoid this winter problem, keep heat vents pointed away from your eyes.
An extra step is to counteract the dry heat by using a humidifier in places where you spend a lot of time, like at home or in your office.
Not only do dry environments increase dry eye symptoms, so does staring at your phone, computer, or tablet for long periods of time. You need to blink regularly to distribute your tears across your eyes, but most people blink at least 50% less while using these devices. For most men and women with dry eye, this prolonged staring is responsible for at least 22% of cases.
To protect your eyes, we recommend the 20-20-20 rule. That means that after 20 minutes of looking at your device, you should spend at least 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away.
Contrary to popular belief, your sunglasses are almost more important during the winter months than in the summer. By wearing your shades each time you go outdoors, you can significantly reduce the effect that cold, dry winds can have on your eyes.
Not all eyeglasses are created equal, however. We can help you select the best frames to protect your dry eyes in winter, but they typically include options with wraparound frames or large lenses.
When you’re looking for dry eye relief, it may seem simple to turn to eyedrops. Some varieties, however, can actually make your symptoms worse.
Before you buy, make sure to avoid any drops with preservatives and those that provide relief from the redness. Instead, choose preservative-free tears so you can apply them as many times each day as you’d like. We also recommend artificial tears lubricant ointments that can provide intense relief several times a day. And remember, start using your eyedrops before your eyes get dry.
It may seem like dry eye is just a nuisance, but it’s important to have regular eye exams to monitor your eye health. These appointments allow us to identify the cause of your condition so we can provide more personalized suggestions on how to manage it.
For example, Dr. Barnes can determine if you have dry eye because you have too little tear production, or not enough oil or water in the tears you make. This understanding can help us provide the best treatment, including prescription medications, in-office therapies, or low-dose steroid eye drops, to relieve your symptoms.