Red Eyes in Winter
Now the temperature has fallen and there’s snow on the mountains, you might be reaching for your hat and gloves, keen to protect yourself from the cold weather.
But what about our eyes? Our eyes rarely get the kind of protection that the rest of our body enjoys, and for the most part are exposed to all conditions, be it hot and humid, or a true Canadian winter wonderland.
Yet the cold weather can have a major impact on our eye health, leading to a number of different problems. One of the most common complaints we hear from our patients at this time of year is that they are suffering from red eyes.
Why do you get red eyes in winter?
Red eyes in winter is a common phenomenon. It happens because the cold air, and in particular the cold winds, dry the eyes out.
Ordinarily the eyes are naturally lubricated, and they have a lipid film that prevents the moisture in our eyes from evaporating. This works perfectly well during the warmer months. But the cold weather makes this film shrink, making it harder to prevent the evaporation of moisture from our eyes.
The lack of moisture or ‘tears’ in the eyes causes them to become irritated, and this in turn leads to inflammation. Consequently the eyes become red and sore.
The colder the weather, the worse the problem will be. And seeing as most of Canada is well below zero at this time of year, it’s not surprising that so many of our patients suffer from red eyes in winter.
There may also be another factor contributing towards your red eyes – heating. With the temperature so cold outside, most of us will crank the heating up in our homes and offices. And while that means we don’t have to wear a coat and hat indoors, it is having a detrimental impact on our eyes.
This is because heating makes the atmosphere in the room or building extremely dry. Again, this will reduce the amount of moisture in the eyes, leaving them irritated, inflamed and red.
What can you do about red eyes in winter?
So what can you do to treat red eyes in winter?
Evidently you can’t stay inside for the entire season with the heating turned off! Instead, try the following solutions. They should help to alleviate your symptoms. If they don’t, be sure to see an eye doctor straight away, as you could be suffering from an underlying condition that requires attention.
Use UV-protection sunglasses
Sunglasses will help to shield your eyes from the elements when you’re out in the cold and windy weather. If you’re skiing, snowboarding or enjoying another outdoor winter sport, swap sunglasses for goggles for better protection. But be sure that you choose something with UV-protection lenses, as this will safeguard your eyes from harmful UV rays. If there’s snow outside, it will also reduce glare.
Eyes drops can lubricate dry eyes. This will help to improve the natural tearing effect that has been reduced by the cold, dry conditions. If you would like to use eye drops, be sure to consult an eye doctor first. There are lots of different eye drops available, and not all will be suitable for you, especially if you’re pregnant or suffering from a medical condition.
If you do have the heating on at home or at work, consider using a humidifier to replace the air moisture. This will counter the dry atmosphere that will otherwise diminish the moisture in your eyes.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Supplements and foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve the lipid film that coats the eyes, in turn helping to combat dry eyes. If you wish to change your diet or take supplements, it’s important to get advice from a doctor, nutritionist or pharmacist first.
Other eye problems associated with winter weather
Red, dry eyes aren’t the only eye problems that are typically experienced during winter. The cold weather can also cause excessive tearing, otherwise known as watery eyes.
You might think excessive tearing is the exact opposite of having dry, red eyes, but in fact the two are closely linked. When the cold weather causes our eyes to dry out, the body’s response may be to deploy excessive tearing, basically flooding the eyes to combat the dryness.
Some people will also experience a burning sensation in their eyes during winter. Again, this is another symptom of dry eyes. Warm compresses gently pressed onto the eyelids can help to reduce discomfort. If the burning sensation is severe, it could be a sign of a bacterial infection, so it’s best to seek medical advice without delay.
Visit an eye doctor
If you’re suffering from red eyes, dry eyes, excessive tearing or burning eyes, you need to visit an eye doctor. This will ensure there isn’t something more sinister causing your symptoms.
Blepharitis, uveitis, conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers and foreign bodies inside the eye can all cause red eyes, and if you do have one of these conditions, it’s important that you receive treatment quickly. This will minimise your pain and limit the risk of long-term damage.
During our comprehensive eye exams, we can identify whether you have an eye condition. If so, we can recommend a safe course of treatment. If not and we’ve confirmed that it is indeed the cold weather causing your discomfort, we can suggest the best ways to alleviate your symptoms.
If you bring a friend along with you for an appointment before December 31st, you’ll also receive a pair of free Canucks tickets. That’s our Christmas present to you.
Book an appointment today to speak to an eye doctor about your red eyes this winter.