February 7, 2017

Winter freezing woman covering face from cold. Skincare concept. Cute Asian girl happy holding scarf with gloves over nose and mouth to protect from the frost. Warm outerwear for wintertime season.

The winter months can be very difficult for those who suffer from dry eyes. The reduced moisture in our heated indoor air tends to interfere with our natural ability to keep the surface of our eyes lubricated. Although severe dry eye disease requires medical attention and treatment, there are several basic tips that can help all dry eye sufferers.

Since the surface of the eye is made up of some of the most sensitive tissue in the human body, the slightest irritant is felt. We cut onions and cry, we get a grain of sand in our eye and rush to flush it out, we go out into extreme cold and our eyes tear up.  The eye protects this extremely sensitive surface by coating it with a film of liquid that is rich in oils – the tear layer. The more our tear layer is uniform, stable and of good quality, the less our eye is prone to dryness.

Horizontal photo of female hand opening up heater floor vent with Red Oak Floors in background

Dry eye can occur when a tear film of reduced quality breaks up quickly between blinks and causes the ocular surface to get direct exposure to air. If this air is dry or being pushed into the eyes (ceiling fans, automobile and heating vents) this will accelerate the evaporation of the liquid coating the eye. This results in more frequent blinking, which can cause your eyes to get red and irritated.

Thankfully, we can control some elements in our environment.  At home, it is a good idea to regulate the humidity in the air with a central humidifier.  At the office, a plug-in humidifier can make an enormous difference.  Do you sleep with a ceiling fan?  Are there overhead vents blowing air on your workstation at the office?  Do your car vents point to your face?  Taking a few moments to address these issues can go a long way in enhancing your ocular comfort.

Most of us spend 8 or more a day looking at a screen of some sort.  It is a proven fact that our blink rate decreases when we are involved in a task of visual concentration like looking at a television or our mobile phones. The primary purpose of the blink is to spread a fresh film of tears over the eye’s surface. Less blinking means reduced tear replenishing and more time for the tears to evaporate. Looking away from your monitor regularly can help.

Try the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes set your gaze on something 20 feet away (or more) for a period of 20 seconds. This rule is designed mainly to reduce eyestrain but it also helps reduce dry eye symptoms. Positioning your screen slightly lower so that you are looking at a 15 degree downward angle will cause your lower lid to cover more of the eye’s surface.  This reduces the surface of the eye that is exposed to air.

Of course spending less time looking at a screen would be helpful but this isn’t always possible.  We must therefore seek to offset this prolonged time of ocular exposure with a prolonged time of recovery:  sleep.

It is during sleep, when the eyes are closed, that the surface can recover somewhat from the day’s torturous conditions. There is no ocular exposure to airflow during sleep. The moist internal surfaces of our lids keep the eye comfortable all night long. The more sleep the better.

And finally, a discussion on strategies to reduce dry eye symptoms would not be complete without talking about eye drops (aka artificial tear (AT) lubricants).  These should be a fundamental part of any dry eye management regime. A couple of important points to remember for the more problematic dry eye sufferer: your eye does not become dependent on lubricants and lubricants do not cure dry eyes.  In other words for eye drops to work, they need to be used frequently and long term.

Non-preserved drops are the top of choice among eye care professionals because the eye can become sensitive to preservatives with long-term exposure.  Your optometrist will be able to help you choose which drop will suit you best.

Before long the outdoor temperatures will rise and our eyes will appreciate the warm humid air of summer – but until then we hope the pointers discussed above can be of help.

Eric DesGroseilliers-edit

About the Author
Dr. Eric DesGroseilliers

Dr. Eric DesGroseilliers graduated from the University of Montreal’s School of Optometry in 1996 and obtained a Bachelor of Science, Summa Cum Laude, with honours in Molecular Biology from the University of Ottawa in 1992. Dr. DesGroseilliers joined eyeDOCS in 1996 and became partner in 1998. For more information about Dr. DesGroseilliers and his specialized interests relating to optometry, click here.