As the winter months bear down upon us, I think back to my childhood growing up in northeastern Pennsylvania. The season could be brutal; and in anticipation of the harsh conditions my father prepared by “winterizing” our house and cars. That meant preparation in the form of snow tires on our cars, shovels and bags of salt at the ready. The coldest days meant turning the faucets on at a slow drip to prevent the pipes from freezing. What does this have to do with eyes? Just as we take precautions to stay ahead of the effects of winter on our homes and cars, we too should be thinking about how the change in seasons can affect our eyes. While this mostly pertains to dry eyes patients, even those not formally diagnosed with dry eyes may still experience symptoms during winter months.
Dry Eye Syndrome is a common and chronic condition that affects approximately 25 million Americans. Its prevalence increases with age and is more common in women than in men. Dryness can occur from: (1) lack of tear production (QUANTITY), (2) poor QUALITY tears, or (3) a combination of both! Tears play a vital role in eye health and function, including providing lubrication, washing away foreign debris, reducing the risk of infection, and maintaining surface integrity by keeping it smooth and vision clear. During the winter months the air is drier due to less ambient humidity/moisture, combined with the heat in our homes and offices can cause increased evaporation of our tears and exacerbation of dry eye. Symptoms of dry eye include, but, are not limited to: foreign body sensation/grittiness, intermittent blurred vision or film over the vision, tearing, photophobia/glare, redness, irritation and/or stabbing pain.
Things that can be done to combat the effects of winter on our eyes include:
- Using a humidifier
- Increasing the frequency of topical lubrication with artificial tears/gels/ointments
- Drinking plenty of water and decrease/avoid coffee intake, as it acts as a diuretic
- Wearing sunglasses to protect from the elements of cold wind and glare
- Adding foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids or take a supplement if approved by your PCP
- Lessening screen time on our smart phones and computers, or taking more breaks
- Minimizing contact lens wear
- If concurrently needing a sinus/allergy oral medication during these months, discuss with your physician which options may have a less secondary drying effect on the eyes
- Maintaining or stimulating function of the oil glands at the lid margins with warm compresses and lid cleanser/scrubs
- Avoid rubbing eyes despite increased irritation, as mechanical trauma can increase inflammation and the possibility of scratches/abrasions to the surface
- Continuing prescription drops for dry eye such as Restasis or Xiidra, as recommended by your eye care physician
Other in-office alternatives/treatments to lessen the symptoms of dry eye during winter, but that may also have long term benefits that extend beyond these months include: punctal plugs, Lipiflow/Miboflo, TrueTear, and Amniotic Membrane grafts. Here at Virginia Eye Institute we are very fortunate to offer these treatment options as we are an Accredited Dry Eye Center by TearLab. While we look forward to Spring and warmer months, it is important to consider what we can implement now as winter is still upon us and realize the prolonged effects these changes can have on our overall ocular health.