As the wintry atmosphere has settled outside and the heat gets cranked up indoors, the dry air can wreak havoc on the body — particularly your eyes. Your sight is an especially important sense; it’s important during these cold months to keep up on the health of your vision. If you’ve noticed that your eyes seem redder than usual, you have blurred sight or watery eyes, or you have a hard time making tears, the culprit could be something a bit more serious than the dreary outdoors.
Sight the sore eye
According to the American Optometric Association, dry eye is a condition in which a person does not have enough quality tears to lubricate and nourish the eyes. People who have dry eyes don’t produce enough tears or their tears are poor quality.
“The front surface of your eye needs to remain moist to provide clear, comfortable, stable and healthy vision,” says optometrist Dr. Caroline Blackie, medical director of ocular surface disease at Johnson & Johnson Vision who’s based in Burlington, Massachusetts. “What makes dry eye unique, as compared to other ocular surface disorders, is that it occurs when this system cannot protect the eye from desiccating stress. That experience may be transient or chronic.”
The causes are due to several factors, says Dr. Chandra Mickles, director of Nova Southeastern University’s dry eye clinic in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Primarily, it is caused by not producing enough tears and/or excessive tear evaporation due to poor-functioning tear-secreting glands. Visual, demanding activities that cause patients to blink less frequently such as digital device use and environmental factors such as windy, air-conditioned environments can exacerbate dry eye. Certain systemic diseases such as diabetes and autoimmune diseases and medications can cause eye dryness.”
Ditch the pain
Signs and symptoms include burning, itching, red and irritated eyes, fluctuating blurred vision and eye fatigue, as well as sensitivity to light, a sensation of having something in your eyes, difficulty wearing contact lenses, and watery eyes.
“There are patients who have signs of dry eye disease that may not know it until it is too late,” Mickles says. “Therefore, annual eye health exams are imperative. The doctor can properly uncover the cause of dry eye and treat it.”
Dr. Barnet Shuman, an optometrist consultant for the National Vision Administrators in Clifton, New Jersey, says drinking enough water and staying hydrated are critical to producing a stable tear film volume and preventing dry eye.
“Keeping the edge of the eyelids and lashes clean and free of crusting and cosmetics” is important, too, he says. “Gentle lid scrubs and warm compresses are useful. If you are working on an at-eye-level computer for extended periods, you may need to close and remoisten your eyes more frequently during the day to remain comfortable.”
Shuman, Blackie and Mickles all recommend lubricating eye drops as a form of dry eye relief. “These drops should all clearly state that they are lubricants or moisturizing eye drops,” Shuman says. “Avoid any eye drops that claim to stop itching, reduce redness or treat allergies, as all of these will cause even more drying of your eyes.”
In more severe cases, an eye doctor may recommend prescription-strength anti-inflammatory eye drops, he says.
Shuman says dry eye “should not be ignored. Discuss this with your eye doctor, as a mild dry eye could progress to a more serious stage in which the front surface of the eye — the cornea — cannot maintain its own healthy status. In these infrequent cases, the cornea can become susceptible to inflammations, infections and even vision-threatening scarring.”