Cold temperatures and dry air can be harsh not only on your skin but also on your eyes. Over time, prolonged exposure to the cold, dry air can cause vision complications. How can you lower the risk of developing common vision complications in winter? By taking note of simple winter eye care dos and don’ts.
Clearfinity Eyecare Optometrist, your trusted optometrist, compiled a quick guide on common vision complications as well as basic winter eye care dos and don’ts.
Common Winter Eye Problems
Here’s an overview of the most common winter vision conditions:
- Dry eyes – Prolonged exposure to cold air can dry your eyes—which are made of 98% water—and possibly cause inflammation in your eyes as well as the skin surrounding it. Common symptoms include red, watery eyes (the body’s standard response to irritation in the eyes), sensitivity to light, and a stinging or burning sensation in your eyes.
How do you alleviate symptoms of dry eyes? Over-the-counter eye drops or artificial tears can help restore moisture in the eyes. If over-the-counter eye drops are ineffective, your eye doctor might recommend using prescription eye drops.
- Excessive tear production – There’s also a risk that your eyes will start to overcompensate for lost moisture through excessive tear production. If the tears start to interfere with your day-to-day routine, wearing protective glasses or goggles should protect your eyes from cold, dry winds and reduce tear production.
If you still experience watery eyes indoors, a seasonal allergy might be to blame. In which case, you should consult an eye doctor. There might be other underlying health issues that could be causing excessive tear production. The sooner these issues are detected and treated by an eye doctor or health professional, the better.
- Conjunctivitis – Excessive tear production could be a symptom of another common vision condition in winter: conjunctivitis or pink eye. The viruses and bacteria that cause pink eye are spread through direct contact. And since people’s immune systems are usually weaker in winter (mostly thanks to insufficient vitamin D levels and the proliferation of other viral conditions like the flu and common cold), conjunctivitis is common during this time of the year.
Aside from teary eyes, what are the other symptoms of conjunctivitis? Common symptoms include (as the name suggests) red or pink, itchy eyes, crusted eyes and lashes (usually in the morning), and mucus or pus discharge. If there is any inflammation in your eyes or symptoms persist, it’s important that you see an eye doctor as soon as possible.
- Snow blindness or Photokeratitis (eye sunburn) – If you’re planning on a ski trip or going somewhere snowy, don’t forget to wear UV-resistant eyeglasses and protective goggles to protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays that reflect off snow. Exposure to damaging UV rays can damage the cornea (the clear layer of the front of your eye), burning its outermost layer. Common symptoms include a burning sensation in your eyes, increased sensitivity to light, watery eyes, and blurred vision. If you experience these symptoms, move away from the glare and rest your eyes. Symptoms usually last for a day or two or until the cornea is healed. However, even if the symptoms subside, you should still see an optometrist to make sure your eyes didn’t suffer any permanent damage.
Winter Eye Care Dos
Following simple winter eye care tips can help prevent vision complications. Here’s a quick overview:
- Stay hydrated – Your eye’s tear glands won’t be able to produce enough tears if you’re dehydrated. According to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, men should drink at least 15.5 cups or 3.7 liters and women about 11.5 cups or 2.7 liters of water.
- Use a humidifier – The furnace helps keep indoor temperatures at a comfortable level but also dries indoor air. A humidifier can help restore much-needed moisture inside your home. Don’t forget to change your HVAC filters as well. Dust and air pollutants can cause allergy flare-ups and irritate your eyes.
- Eat a diet rich in eye-friendly nutrients – A study has shown that zinc, copper, vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene can help reduce your risk of age-related decline in eye health by 25 percent. Try incorporating more cold-water fish (rich in Omega 3s that can help reduce the risk of dry eyes caused by too much screen time), nuts and legumes (excellent sources of vitamin E, which help prevent age-related vision damage), leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, and collards are rich in lutein, zeaxanthin, and Vitamin C), and carrots (excellent source of Vitamin A and beta carotene) into your diet.
- Observe the 20-20-20 rule while using an electronic device – When your eyes blink, the eyelid spreads a tear film over your eyes to keep it moist. However, while we’re focused on the screen, we tend to blink less often, increasing the risk of dry eyes. Following the 20-20-20 rule can help keep your eyes sufficiently moist and reduce digital eye strain. Look away from your screen every 20 minutes, and focus on something that’s about 20 feet away for about 20 seconds.
Important note: if you still experience blurred or double vision and other symptoms of digital eye strain after consistently following the 20-20-20 rule, you should see an optometrist. A higher prescription might be to blame for the persistent eye strain you’ve been experiencing.
- Make sure your computer screen below eye level – Positioning the screen below eye level will keep your eyes from widening too wide, slowing the rate of evaporation of tears and helping keep your eyes sufficiently moist for longer.
- Wear protective eye goggles while playing winter sports and UV – resistant eyeglasses while driving – Make sure to get quality protective eyewear from a licensed optical shop—tinted drugstore sunglasses and substandard goggles can’t protect you from UV rays or glare.
- Wash your hands frequently – Frequent handwashing will help prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria that can cause conjunctivitis and other vision conditions upon making contact with your eyes. You should wash your hands before and after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, or touching contaminated surfaces. Make sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails, and scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- See your eye doctor at least once every two years – Don’t forget to schedule an appointment with your optometrist if you still haven’t undergone an eye exam in two years. However, if you have eyeglasses or contact lenses or are aged 60 and above, the American Optometric Association recommends undergoing an eye exam at least once every year. Through routine eye exams, your eye doctor can monitor changes in your vision and detect the early warning signs of vision conditions before symptoms progress.
Winter Eye Care Don’ts
- Staying too close to heat sources – While it might be tempting to move closer to portable heaters for extra warmth, you should avoid staying too close to sources of heat. This is to prevent your skin and eyes from losing moisture too quickly. Turning down the temperature a bit can also help slow the evaporation rate of moisture in your eyes.
- Smoking – Smoking can exacerbate symptoms of dry eyes. If you’re having trouble keeping the habit, your doctor can devise a health plan to help you quit smoking. Joining a support group can also help.
- Rubbing your eyes – If you came into contact with a contaminated surface and rub your eyes without washing them, your eyes might get infected. Instead of rubbing your eyes, place a warm, damp cloth over your eyes for 15 minutes to alleviate pain in your eyes. For inflamed or tender areas around your areas, use a cold, wet cloth. If the pain persists, see your eye doctor as soon as possible.
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