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How Heat Can Cause Dry Eye During Winter

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A woman in warm clothes rubbing her eyes.

As the crisp, cold winter air sets in, many of us retreat indoors to the cozy warmth of our heated homes. However, while we hide from the winter chill, we may unwittingly expose our eyes to an often-overlooked culprit behind dry eye symptoms: indoor heat!

Space heaters and furnaces can remove the humidity from your home, worsening dry eye symptoms in winter. Fortunately, you don’t have to freeze to keep your eyes comfortable. Your optometrist can examine your symptoms and help you treat dry eyes where it’s nice and warm.

What Is Dry Eye?

Dry eye is a common condition that occurs when our eyes don’t produce enough tears, or the tears’ quality is poor, resulting in insufficient hydration. While we tend to connect dryness to those hot summer months, Canadian winters can bring dry, cold winters.

The combination of low humidity outside and dry indoor heating systems can worsen moisture loss, making tears evaporate too quickly from the eye’s surface. Without a healthy tear film to nourish and protect your eyes, you can experience a range of symptoms, such as:

  • Red eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Stringy eye mucus
  • A stinging, burning, or gritty sensation
  • The feeling of having something in your eyes
  • Watery eyes as your body produces extra tears to combat the dryness

The Role of Heat for Dry Eyes

Indoor heating systems keep us warm and cozy during the winter months. We don’t have to sell you the joys of having anything from central heating to space heaters. However, there’s a downside to this cozy comfort because these heating systems can significantly impact indoor humidity levels.

As dry, hot air circulates, it can cause tears on the ocular surface to evaporate more quickly, leading to a type of dry eye called evaporative dry eye. However, dry air can cause problems for people without chronic dry eyes as well.

Additionally, if you’re someone who uses winter as an opportunity to crowd around a nice, warm fireplace, be aware of the ash that may come along with the rustic charm. This, plus the smoke, can irritate your eyes and worsen dry eye symptoms. Strive for a balance between warmth and optimal eye health during the winter season.

Preventing Dry Eye in Winter

A man pouring water from a pitcher to a glass.

Maintaining eye comfort in winter doesn’t require shivering in the cold. Instead, it’s about smart environmental control and self-care. Here are some tips to help prevent dry eye and reduce eye strain:

  • Hydration and eye drops: Drinking plenty of water is more than just good health advice; it’s vital for maintaining tear production. For additional relief, consider using over-the-counter artificial tears to help keep your eyes moisturized throughout the day.
  • Humidifiers and air filters: Add a humidifier to your room to boost the moisture in the air. Just make sure you keep them clean.
  • Eye breaks: We tend to blink less while focusing, so take frequent breaks if you’re working on a task for an extended period, especially while using electronic devices, and practice the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds to help relax your eyes.
  • Regular eye exams: Routine check-ups with your eye care professional at Focus West Optometry can help diagnose dry eye early and prevent complications. Personalized treatment plans can be developed to address your needs and provide ongoing comfort and health.

Professional Dry Eye Therapy

If you’re experiencing persistent dry eye symptoms or over-the-counter remedies aren’t giving you the comfort you deserve, it could be time to consult an eye care specialist. Expert advice can provide a tailored treatment plan to alleviate discomfort and safeguard your vision.

Some professional treatment options that go beyond at-home care include:

  • iLux® dry eye treatment: iLux® targets meibomian gland dysfunction, the most common cause of dry eye. It applies gentle, localized heat and compression to help unblock oil glands in the eyelids, allowing for improved tear quality. The treatment is quick, in-office, and can offer fast relief for many patients.
  • Punctal plugs: This procedure involves the insertion of tiny plugs into the tear ducts (puncta) to slow tear drainage. The concept is simple: the more time tears spend in your eyes, the more lubricated they may be. Punctal plugs can be an effective, reversible option for managing dry eye symptoms long-term.
  • Prescription eye drops: Unlike over-the-counter artificial tears, prescription eye drops contain active ingredients that can reduce inflammation as they lubricate the eyes. Your optometrist can prescribe them as part of a comprehensive dry eye treatment plan.
  • Nutritional supplements: Essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3s found in fish oil, can support a healthy tear film and overall eye health. If you don’t eat enough salmon, oral supplements are a common supportive measure in managing dry eye symptoms.
  • Eyelid hygiene products: Lid wipes and scrubs are specially formulated to remove oils, debris, and other irritants contributing to dry eye discomfort. Good eyelid hygiene can help prevent blockages of the meibomian glands and maintain clear tear production.

Eye Care for Every Season

As you envelop yourself in the warmth of the indoors this winter, remember that the oasis you create doesn’t have to come at the expense of your eye comfort. At Focus West Optometry, we offer solutions tailored to your unique case, helping you see beyond the discomfort of dry eyes.Protecting your eyes against the dry winter is not just about immediate comfort—it’s investing in your long-term visual health. If you’re struggling with dry eyes, book your appointment and enjoy our comprehensive service—whatever the weather may bring.

Written by Focus West Optometry

Welcome to Focus West Optometry! Since our founding in 1997, our team has been proud to serve the Calgary community and provide comprehensive eye care for the whole family. We offer a wide range of eye care services, including addressing dry eyes, an extensive optical boutique, and innovative technology to make your visit as efficient as possible.

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