Medically reviewed by Jenna Stoddard, OD — Written by Hana Ames
Cold or windy weather and indoor heating may cause people to experience dry eyes more often in the winter months. Depending on the severity of their symptoms and any medications they may be taking, a person can use either over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications to treat their dry eyes.
Dry eye is a common condition that can negatively affect a person’s quality of life. According to the National Eye Institute, nearly 16 million people in the United States have dry eye.
There is some evidence to suggest that the seasons may impact the occurrence of dry eye.
Dry eyes in winter are common, but people can usually treat them with home remedies and self-care. Sometimes, however, dry eyes may require medical intervention.
Read on to learn about what people can do to treat symptoms of dry eyes at home. This article also covers when to contact a doctor
Causes of Dry Eyes in Winter
There are many reasons that a person may experience dry eyes throughout the year. However, some reasons are specific to the winter months.
These include factors such as weather and heating. For example, cold and high winds blowing in a person’s face may cause their eyes to dry out. Indoor heating may also be a cause of dry eyes, and it is likely that people will use their heating more often in the colder months.
Some symptoms of dry eyes may include eyes that feel:
- sensitive to light
A person with dry eyes may also experience blurry vision and eyes that are more watery than usual.
Some general reasonsTrusted Source that a person may experience dry eyes include:
- their glands not producing enough tears to keep the eyes moist
- their tears drying too fast
- their tears not keeping their eyes wet effectively enough
Some medications may cause dry eyes. However, it is important that people do not stop taking their prescribed medications without medical advice.
There may be alternatives that may not cause a person to experience dry eyes. Alternatively, it could be that it is more beneficial to treat dry eyes than to change medications.
Regardless, people should speak with the doctor who prescribed their medication regarding any side effects they may be experiencing.
There are a variety of treatment options that doctors may recommend, depending on the cause and severity of a person’s dry eyes.
Treatments may also vary depending on whether or not the dry eyes have a connection to a person’s allergies.
The sections below look at some treatment options for dry eyes in more detail.
A doctor may suggest OTC medications such as artificial tears. People can get these eye drops, which mimic natural tears to help lubricate the eyes, without a prescriptionTrusted Source.
There are many different types of eye drops that a person can buy, and people should try a variety to determine which option works best for them.
There are also specific options for people who use contact lenses and for people who need to use eye drops very frequently throughout the day.
If a person finds themselves needing to use eye drops more frequently than the directions on the label of OTC eye drops recommend, they may require prescription eye drops.
A doctor or pharmacist can recommend the right prescription eye drops for an individual’s situation.
Sometimes, people may find that their dry eyes are due to the lack of humidity in the air. Using a humidifier may help with this. However, people who use humidifiers should ensure that they clean them regularly to avoid bacteria building up, as this can cause irritation to the eyes.
If a person does not have access to a humidifier, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends putting a pan of water near a heater or radiator for a similar effect.
These ointments, which are an alternative to eye drops, are available either over the counter or with a prescription.
Eye ointments are thicker than eye drops and can, therefore, cause blurry vision in some cases. So, it may be best to apply them at nighttime.
Tear duct plugs
A person can also use specially designed silicon or gel plugs called punctal plugs to prevent tears from draining away too quickly. This can help keep the eyes moist for longer.
Another home remedy that a person can try to relieve their dry eye symptoms is a warm compress.
To use a warm compress, a person should soak a clean washcloth in warm, not hot, water and apply it to the eye area for 10 minutes or so.
In some rare cases, a person may have lower eyelids that are too loose, which can cause the tears to drain too quickly. In these cases, a doctor may recommend that they undergo surgery to adjust the eyelids.
In some cases, the doctor may recommend surgery to close the person’s tear ducts permanently.
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There are some lifestyle changes and other methods that a person can try to help prevent dry eyes in winter. These include:
- Blinking often: People should make sure that they are blinking regularly to ensure that their tears are thoroughly lubricating the eyes.
- Avoiding hairdryers: Using hairdryers can increase the likelihood of a person’s eyes becoming dry.
- Using indoor heating less often: People should try to keep their home as cool as they can bear so that the heating does not dry out their eyes.
- Avoiding smoking: People may wish to consider quitting smoking and trying to avoid being around people who smoke, as smoke from cigarettes can irritate the eyes and cause them to dry out.
- Wearing eye protection: Wearing wraparound glasses or goggles can help protect the eyes from the wind and other winter weather.
- Limiting screen time: Often, when people spend a long time looking at screens, they may blink less. This can cause the eyes to dry out.
- Drinking plenty of water: This helps keep people hydrated and, therefore, helps prevent dry eyes.
When to contact a Doctor
There are many things that a person can do at home to help relieve dry eyes without requiring medical intervention.
However, a person should visit a doctor if they:
- have tried home remedies for a few weeks and still do not experience relief
- have any worrisome changes to their vision, such as loss of vision
- have dry eyes that are interfering with their day-to-day life
- suspect that they have an underlying reason for their dry eyes
There are many underlying reasons that can cause a person to experience dry eyes. Some of these may include:
The doctor will be able to look into any underlying causes and prescribe stronger treatments that may be able to resolve a person’s dry eye symptoms.
It is quite common for people to experience dry eyes in the winter months.
There are many things that can cause this, including a lack of humidity, warm indoor air, and the wind.
Most of the time, people are able to use home remedies to help treat their dry eye symptoms. Occasionally, however, medical intervention may be necessary.