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Dry Eyes and Winter Weather

Winter weather can cause dry eyes Did you know that your eyes have different challenges and obstacles to overcome during each season of the year? For example allergy sufferers might have itchy and red eyes during the spring and fall. On the other hand the summer and winter months lead to higher levels of UV rays. One of the most difficult times of the year for our eyes is the winter. The cold weather and the dry air can make this time of year particularly uncomfortable for the eyes and sometimes leads to a condition known as dry eye syndrome.

What causes dry eyes?
Your eyes need moisture to function properly. In normal situations your eyes will produce tears which lubricate the eyes and keep the delicate eye cells moist. Tears also keep germs and dust from the eye and contain special enzymes that neutralize microorganisms that may be found in the eye. In some cases the body cannot produce enough tears to keep the eye moisturized. When this occurs it is known as dry eye syndrome.

Dry eye syndrome can have many causes. As the body ages it slowly starts to produce fewer tears. This is especially prevalent during menopause. Medications and certain diseases can also limit the body’s ability to produce tears. Wearing contact lenses long term has been shown to decrease moisture levels in the eye as well. Finally environmental factors can contribute to dry eye syndrome. For example the dry winter weather can lead to dry eyes and irritation.

Dry air and the winter
Many people associate the winter with wet weather, but in actuality the air is typically drier during the winter months than at any other time during the year. In addition the cold winter winds are particularly irritating to the eyes. This can be especially uncomfortable for those that wear contacts since dry contacts can be very uncomfortable and irritating to the eye. The indoor conditions are also drier during the winter. The little moisture that is in the air is typically dried up due to winter heating. This can mean that the air inside is even drier and more irritating than the air outside.

This dry air won’t typically cause long term eye problems, but it can be very uncomfortable. Often the problem compounds itself. When your eyes are dry you are more likely to rub your eyes which can lead to scratching of the eye and further irritation, pain and rubbing.

What can be done?
While winter and its dry air does pose particular challenges to the eye, there are many things that you can do to protect your eyes and feel more comfortable even when the temperatures start to drop.

Artificial tears can be a great solution to the irritation and discomfort caused by winter dry eyes. When using artificial tears it is important to choose a formulation that will restore moisture to the eye, not just remove redness. Many over the counter remedies may actually cause more irritation, so be sure to check with your eye doctor to find the right type of artificial tears for you. This is especially important for those that wear contact lenses. Remember that many types of artificial tears cannot be applied while wearing contacts, so be sure to follow directions and not to reinsert your contacts before the necessary amount of time has passed.

In addition to artificial tears there are many things you can do to reduce eye dryness by making lifestyle and environmental changes. One of the leading causes of eye dryness during the winter is indoor heating. Your heater removes the moisture from the air. You can combat this by using a humidifier. This one step alone can really help your eyes to feel more comfortable during the winter.

Another way to protect your eyes is to use eye protection when going outside. It is a good idea to wear sunglasses or goggles outside. Wraparound sunglasses a frame that fits close to the face will help keep dust and other particles out of the eye. Goggles can provide protection from the cold air and will keep dust and other particles out of the eye. Wear these whenever you go outside, not just when you are skiing or participating in outdoor activities. In addition pay attention when using the computer and other electronic devices. Often looking at a computer screen for extended periods of time can reduce the number of times that the eye blinks and refreshes its tears. When long term computer use is needed focus on making a concerted effort to blink regularly.

In severe cases of dry eye syndrome a procedure called punctual occlusion may be performed. This procedure basically plugs up the natural drain that the eyelid uses to remove tears with silicone. This keeps your body from eliminating tears and causes the tears that you produce to stay in the eye longer. This procedure is a last resort option for those that cannot find success using other methods.

Winter time can be a dry and uncomfortable time for the eyes, but it doesn’t have to be. Protecting your eyes and taking precautions can make winter a more comfortable time and can prevent eye damage.

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