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Dry Eyes

Causes of dry eyes in winter and how to treat them

Medically reviewed by Jenna Stoddard, OD — Written by Hana Ames

shutterstock 707286685 scaledCold 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

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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:

  • itchy
  • sore
  • gritty
  • red
  • 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

Medications

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.

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Treatment

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.

OTC medications

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.

Prescription medications

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.

Indoor humidifiers

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.

Eye ointments

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.

Warm compresses

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.

Surgery

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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Prevention

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.

Summary

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.

What Eye Drops Are Best For My Eyes?

Are you suffering from red, irritated and scratchy eyes? Do you feel like you have something stuck in your eyes? These are hallmark symptoms of dry eye syndrome, a condition that occurs when your eyes are not properly lubricated due to insufficient tear production, blocked glands, or unbalanced tear composition.

The symptoms can be so unpleasant that many rush to the nearest pharmacy to find the perfect eye drops that will offer them the relief they need so that they can get back to focusing on other things.

However, seeking the ideal artificial tears to relieve dry eyes can be a daunting process. The eye drops shelf at the drug store offers so many options that it’s hard to know which ones are right for you. What’s more, some can actually make your symptoms worse.

Not all eye drops are created equal—currently, there are 6 main categories of artificial tears available over the counter. Choosing the artificial tears based on your specific needs can help narrow your options.

The 6 Types of Eye Drops / Artificial Tears

Preserved Artificial Tears

Preserved artificial tears contain added preservatives to maintain a very long shelf and keep bacteria at bay once the bottle is opened. Unfortunately, it also causes inflammatory dry eye disease, meibomian gland dysfunction and an allergic reaction in those who are sensitive, leading to redness, irritation and inflammation. While these drops may offer temporary relief, long term they can do more harm than good. Moreover, the preservatives may leave residue on contact lenses. 

Preservative-Free Artificial Tears

Preservative-free artificial tears are great for contact lens wearers as they don’t cause any preservative build-up on the lenses. They are also suitable for those with sensitive eyes since they contain fewer ingredients that can cause irritation. 

Preservative-free eye drops typically come in a box of 28 to 30 small vials that fit in a pocket or purse. 

To use these drops, just pop the top off and insert the drops into your eyes. Some of these vials can be re-capped to allow you to continue to use the vial for up to 24 hours, but not longer. Refrigerate opened vials between uses to prevent any bacterial growth.

Oil-Based Artificial Tears

Oil-based tears come in preserved and preservative-free versions. These are thicker than traditional eye drops, as they contain an oil-based formulation. The oil helps prevent the watery portion of the tears from evaporating too quickly. 

If you suffer from moderate or severe dry eye, oil-based artificial tears may be a great option. However, they’re not recommended for contact lens wearers, as the oils may stick to the surface of the lenses, making it difficult to keep them clean.

Eye Drop Spray or Mist

These sprays are preservative-free and are used to relieve dryness and irritation in both the eyes and eyelids. They’re easy to use, especially for those who struggle to insert drops into their eyes.

To use the spray, just close your eyes and spray onto your closed eyelids. Once you blink, the tears will slide into your eyes. 

Don’t use the spray if you’re wearing makeup, lotions, or creams on your eyelids, as it can cause the makeup or lotion to enter your eye.

Artificial Tear Gel

Artificial tear gel adds a thick coating of tears and can be used at any time of the day or night. However, the thicker consistency of the gel drop may blur your vision for several minutes. 

The gel is applied in the same way as eye drops. It effectively soothes the eyes and provides extended relief for both moderate to severe dry eye.

Most artificial tear gels contain preservatives, so they can only be used up to 4 times a day, and usually they are not safe for contact lens wearers.

Artificial Tear Ointment

Dry eye ointments are thick and coat the front of your eye. They’re usually used 1 to 2 times daily as needed. It may be best to use them at bedtime, as it will blur your vision. 

Get Dry Eye Relief Today!

Artificial tears may be a good way to temporarily relieve eye dryness. However, using the wrong type of eye drops can be worse than not using any drops at all. So be sure to consult your eye doctor before you get eye drops.

Keep in mind that eye drops don’t address the root cause of dry eyes; they just provide temporary respite from the uncomfortable dry eye symptoms. Only an eye doctor can examine your eyes to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms and recommend the best treatment for your unique case of dry eye.

Schedule an appointment with Family Eye Professionals in Chicago Ridge to learn more about dry eye syndrome and to find out which treatment is best for you. 

Q&A

What is dry eye syndrome?

Dry eye syndrome is a condition where your eyes either produce low-quality tears or don’t produce enough tears to keep your eyes hydrated. This may be due to certain diseases (like diabetes or other autoimmune diseases), aging, allergies, hormonal changes, smoking, poor air quality, medications and the environment.

What are the symptoms of dry eye syndrome?

Dry eye syndrome can cause a wide range of symptoms including:

  • Itchy eyes
  • A feeling that there is grit or debris in the eye
  • Blurred vision
  • Burning sensation
  • Dryness
  • Irritation
  • Sensitivity to light and glare

 

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