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If you have dry eye disease, your peepers might need a little more TLC when it gets cold.

For starters, cold air doesn’t hold as much moisture as warm air. The drop in humidity makes your tears evaporate even faster. And frigid wind blasting across your face doesn’t help. Plus, you probably spend more time indoors with dry, heated air when temperatures are low.

This winter wallop can leave you with eye pain, blurry vision, and/or a gritty feeling. Your eyes might tear up when it feels like something is stuck in them. But these watery drops don’t stick around long enough to provide long-lasting moisture.

The good news is there are ways to protect and soothe your eyes this winter. You might need special drops, lifestyle changes, or other treatments. Your eye doctor can tell you what’s best. Here are some tips to get you started.

Use Artificial Tears

Over-the-counter (OTC) eyedrops are likely the first thing your eye doctor will suggest. If symptoms are mild, these “artificial tears” might be the only treatment you need. But there’s more than one kind. Ask your eye doctor which one is right for you. 

Many eyedrops come with preservatives. They help keep germs from growing inside the bottle, but they might bother your eyes. Consider switching to preservative-free drops if you use them four or more times a day. These come in single-use vials.

You can also try artificial tears in a gel or ointment form. They may blur your vision a bit, so it’s usually best to use them before bed.

Make Lifestyle Changes

Blink more. This helps give your eyes a fresh coat of moisture. You might blink less if you look at screens all day. Take a 5-minute computer break at least every hour. Or look 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. This is called the 20/20/20 rule.

Change your contacts. Try soft lenses you throw away every day. If that doesn’t help, ask your eye doctor if you should get contact lenses made for people with dry eyes. Or you can switch to glasses.

Cover your eyes outdoors. Try wraparound sunglasses if regular shades don’t give you enough protection from the wind.

Turn heat away from your face. Shift car vents or heaters so they don’t blow directly toward your eyes.

Check your medication. Certain drugs or ingredients in them worsen dry eyes. Some examples include antihistamines and decongestants, antidepressants, birth control pills, and blood pressure meds. Tell your doctor about everything you take, including vitamins and supplements.

Add more omega-3 fatty acids. These are healthy oils found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna. There’s some evidence these fats may lower inflammation in your eyes or eyelids. They might help your glands make oily tears. You can also take omega-3 supplements. Ask your doctor if they’re right for you.

Drink more water. This is good advice for anyone. But your eyes might make their own moisture a little easier when you’re hydrated.

Take care during travel. Go over your winter vacation plans with your doctor, especially if you want to fly somewhere or take a mountain getaway. The air is dryer in airplanes and at high altitudes. You might need to take extra steps to protect your eyes.

Try Home Remedies

Use a humidifier. This will add moisture to indoor air. Keep one by your bed when you sleep. A humidifier might help a lot if you use a CPAP machine. CPAP machines help you breathe easier, but it can blow air toward your eyes. You can also try wearing a sleep mask that covers your eyes. You can buy a small, portable humidifier. But a central humidifier can up moisture throughout your home.

Apply warm compresses. Cover your eyes with constant low heat for about 5 to 10 minutes. This might help boost blood supply to your meibomian glands. These are tiny glands along the edges of your eyelids. They make the oily part of your tears, which are a key part of your eye’s moisture layer.

Massage and clean your eyelids. This is another way to help the oil in your glands flow better.

Talk to Your Doctor

Dry eyes can hurt your vision over time. Keep your eye doctor in the loop if lifestyle changes and OTC choices aren’t enough. They may want to check for other health issues, including Sjogren’s syndrome.

Let your health care team know if you’re having trouble managing other medical conditions. Some, like uncontrolled diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, can worsen dry eyes. No matter what’s causing your symptoms, your doctor can work with you to help keep your eyes healthy.

Show Sources

Photo Credit: Tom Merton / Getty Images

SOURCES:

Brian DeBroff, MD, ophthalmologist, Yale Medicine; professor of clinical ophthalmology and visual science, Yale School of Medicine.

Cornea: “The effect of low humidity on the human tear film.”

Clinical Ophthalmology: “The use of preservatives in dry eye drops.”

Mayo Clinic: “Artificial tears: How to select eyedrops for dry eyes,” “Dry eyes,” “Mayo Clinic Q and A: Fish oil supplements and dry eyes,” “Rheumatoid arthritis: Can it affect the eyes?”

American Optometric Association: “20/20/20,” “Dry eye,” “Winter is coming: Help patients combat dry eye.”  

NYU Langone Health: “Lifestyle Modifications for Sjogren’s Syndrome.”

UAB Medicine: “Cold Weather Woes and Dry Eyes.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “The Benefits of Fish Oil for Dry Eye.”