Winter Eye-tinerary: Tips for protecting your eyes during the chilly season

May 14, 2023
Source: Getty

For some, winter months are often a welcome change to the long hot summers experienced in Australia, however, the drops in temperature can lead to some discomfort for your eyes.

Dry eyes are commonly experienced in the winter months as cold temperatures and windy conditions, combined with air conditioning and heating indoors, can lead to more tear evaporation which can cause discomfort.

What causes dry eye?

Dry eyes can be attributed to various factors, but the predominant causes are inadequate production of tears, resulting in insufficient moisture in the eyes, and the production of low-quality tears. The cold, often dry air that is produced in winter means your eyes can struggle with this moisture needed. 

Many things can cause insufficient tear production in the eyes, such as ageing, certain medications, and medical conditions like diabetes, hypothyroidism, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Women may also experience dry eye due to hormonal changes from oral contraceptives, pregnancy, or menopause. Environmental factors, such as living in dry or windy climates or staring at electronic screens for prolonged periods without blinking, can also contribute to dry eye.

Tears have three layers – an outer oily layer, a middle watery layer, and an inner mucus layer – which work together to effectively lubricate the eyes. Deficiencies in any of these layers can result in poor-quality tears and inadequate lubrication.

For instance, insufficient oil can cause the watery layer to evaporate too quickly, insufficient water can lead to inadequate lubrication, and a thin mucus layer can cause tears to spread unevenly.

What are the symptoms of dry eye? 

  • Feelings of dryness, grittiness, or soreness 
  • Red eyes
  • Eyelids that stick together when you wake up
  • Temporarily blurred vision, which usually improves when you blink

How is dry eye treated? 

Fortunately, there are several treatments available to help with dry eye. Your optometrist will perform a dry eye assessment as part of a comprehensive eye exam. They may recommend eye drops to lubricate your eyes and manage your symptoms and any inflammation present.  If dry eye is caused by an underlying condition, treating this condition will usually help relieve the symptoms.

What are some other ways you can keep your eyes healthy? 

Excessive screen time can also contribute to dry eyes, which can be easy to do when you’re watching your favourite Netflix show on a cold winter’s day.

It’s important you’re aware of how much time you spend on screens and take regular breaks if you’re experiencing the symptoms of dry eyes. 

Some tips I recommend: 

  1. Remember to blink

This keeps the surface of your eyes from drying out. 

  1. Keep a bottle of water next to your computer 

Your eyes dry out when you’re dehydrated so make sure you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day! It might even be worth writing a reminder for yourself to remain hydrated.

  1. Follow the “20-20-20” rule

This means every 20 minutes remind yourself to shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 metres away, for at least 20 seconds. 

  1. Screen adjustments

Adjust the brightness and contrast of your screen to match the level of light around you. Try increasing the contrast on the screen to reduce eye strain. Using the “Nighttime” feature on your phone can also be beneficial.

  1. Consider your position

Adjust your position at the computer. When using a computer, you should be sitting no closer than 60cm (about at arm’s length) from the screen. Position the screen so your eyes gaze slightly downward, not straight ahead or up.

It’s also crucial to protect your eyes from UV sun damage, even on cloudy winter days. To ensure the best protection, always wear sunglasses with UV protection. For superior vision and glare protection in bright light, consider purchasing sunglasses with polarised lenses. 

I always recommend speaking to your local optometrist if you need advice or have any eye health queries. Your optometrist will be able to provide an expert opinion and refer you for further testing if it is required.

It is advisable to have your eyes checked every two years to ensure your eye health is monitored and that your optometrist can pick up on any eye health conditions immediately. 

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