While most of us think about protecting our eyes in the summertime, it’s also important to take precautions during the colder months of the year. Let’s talk about the most common winter eye problems and what you can do to keep your eyes healthy.
Winter Eye Problems
Dry Eye and Irritation
Cold winter air is drier than warmer seasons, which can cause dry eye. In addition, since our homes are usually sealed up and the heat is on, the increased humidity can make your eyes even drier. As you rub your eyes to relieve the soreness, this can irritate your eyes further.
When you’re outside, you might have the opposite experience – excessive tearing. Cold wind evaporates moisture from the top layer of your cornea. When that happens, your brain sends a message to produce more tears. Unfortunately, this can make your vision blurry. If your eyes are watering indoors, you might have a seasonal allergy.
Snow- and ice-covered areas reflect a lot more light than most people realize. This brightness may cause discomfort, twitching, or excessive blinking. It also might compromise your vision, making everyday activities more dangerous.
Sunburn or “Snow Blindness”
Did you know that it’s possible to sunburn your eyes? If you experience light sensitivity, irritation, or pain after being outside for a while (especially at higher elevations), you may have a sunburn. Cumulative UV damage to your eyes can cause vision loss and macular degeneration.
Conjunctivitis or “Pink Eye”
This is an irritation or inflammation of the conjunctiva, which covers the white part of the eyeball. Conjunctivitis can be extremely contagious. Symptoms include redness, itching, and tearing of the eyes. It can also lead to discharge or crusting around the eyes. Pink eye is much more common during the colder months of the year.
How to Protect Your Eyes During the Winter
The body needs water for its various organs to function, eyes included. This will help ensure adequate tear production. Tears clear away foreign matter in the eye and help reduce the risk of eye infections. Be sure to drink at least 64 oz each day.
Everyone keeps their sunglasses handy in the summer, but you should make this a habit year-round. Harmful high-energy ultraviolet (UV) rays can penetrate, even on the cloudiest days of winter. Also keep in mind that the light reflecting off snow can be significantly brighter than the light reflected by water. Look for lenses with 99-100% protection. You might also see "UV absorption up to 400nm.” It’s also helpful to have polarized sunglasses, which cut reflected glare especially when driving, on water, or in snowy environments.
Wear Eye Protection
Avoid eye injuries by wearing proper eye protection like goggles. Safety eyewear should include lightweight, impact-resistant polycarbonate or Trivex lenses. Winter activities like shoveling snow, raking, burning leaves, or hanging seasonal decorations could all cause potential injuries.
Use Eye Drops
For additional relief from dry eye, consider using artificial tears or other lubricating eye drops. Just be aware of the thickness before you select one. Those with low viscosity are watery. They provide quick relief with little or no vision blurring. But you'll have to apply them more frequently. On the other hand, artificial tears with high viscosity are gel-like. They provide longer lasting relief with more significant blurring. For more tips , check out our blog 8 Treatments for Relieving Dry Eyes.
Set up a Humidifier
Many people experience relief from dry eye and irritation by putting a humidifier in their bedroom at night. Since the heated indoor air is so drying, this can counteract the effects.
Wash Your Hands Frequently
It’s impossible to stop touching your eyes completely. Often, we do it out of habit. But you can decrease the risk of eye infections like conjunctivitis by washing your hands regularly. As a bonus, you’ll likely lower your risk of getting a cold or flu too!
By following these tips, you can keep your eyes healthy all winter long. But if you’re still having an issue, be sure to visit your optometrist. Eye care professionals can diagnose winter-related eye problems such as dry eye and conjunctivitis and provide treatment to speed up your healing and reduce discomfort.