Because hot indoor air and cold air contain less humidity, it’s often the cause of dry eyes in winter. The National Eye Institute estimates this common condition affects nearly 16 million Americans. The eyes are among the most delicate of all parts of the body, so it's important to pay attention to their health during colder months. Following these tips will help you mollify potential winter eye problems.
What Happens to Our Eyes, Contacts, and Glasses in the Winter?
Tears are an essential lubricant produced by lacrimal glands located above the eyes. They are constantly released by these glands and spread across the surface of the eye, creating a protective layer of hydration. However, when the air contains less moisture, this layer evaporates. If you wonder, “why are my eyes so dry in the winter?” This is likely the main reason.
Symptoms of dry eyes include redness, itchiness, burning, stickiness, and occasionally the sensation of a foreign body in the eye. If you wear contact lenses in winter, these irritations may feel especially bothersome and make contacts too uncomfortable to wear. It is possible to quell the severity of dry eye and still wear contacts by making incremental lifestyle changes.
(So, does winter cause dry eyes? Only when there’s lower indoor and outdoor humidity and high winds that evaporate the eyes’ natural lubrication.)
Can Contact Lenses Freeze in Winter?
While temperatures below zero may irritate contact lenses, they can’t freeze in your eyes. Freezing can only occur if they’re stored in a lens solution at 5 °F. The solution will protect the lenses from damage but shouldn’t be used again, as its disinfectant potency may be compromised.
Lenses can also freeze without solution, but they’re more likely to dry out first. You can try to rehydrate them, but it’s not recommended as they will be very brittle and possibly uncomfortable to wear. In general, wearing contact lenses in cold weather can worsen dry eyes, especially if you’re moving between cold and warm environments. Having eye drops on hand can help alleviate these uncomfortable symptoms.
How Can I Protect My Eyes and Contacts During the Winter?
Small incremental lifestyle habits can reduce itchy eyes during winter and improve contact lens wearing. Below are our recommended tips for dry eyes in winter.
Avoid Dry Environments
Air in high altitudes, desert areas, airplanes, and indoor heated spaces (including the car), dries out eyes. When driving, divert the HVAC to your feet, and in warm indoor environments, try to face away from heaters and fireplaces. If you’re in a place with dry air for prolonged periods of time, blink every so often to aid natural eye lubrication.
Choose The Right Contacts
Wearing contact lenses in cold weather is preferable to glasses for people who lead active lifestyles. Determining the correct contact lens depends on corneal curvature, iris size, and tear film composition. It’s important that the lenses fit comfortably and properly. Ill-fitting ones can cause discomfort, blurry vision and exacerbate dry eye symptoms.
Use a Humidifier
Humidifiers are electronic devices that release water vapor in the air to increase humidity in single rooms or entire buildings. If you suffer from dry eyes in winter, placing a humidifier in the living room and bedroom can help reduce symptoms. Between 30 -40% is a good humidity level baseline, while anything above 50% is risky as it may encourage bacteria and mold growth.
Wear UV-Resistant Sunglasses or Goggles
Sun reflection off snow brings harsh UV rays, doubling typical exposure. When UV rays penetrate the eyes, they can damage the retina, leading to sunburn (photokeratitis), dry eye syndrome, and cataract development. Symptoms typically last for a couple of days, after which eye health returns to normal. People who spend time outdoors or live in environments with snow should wear UV-resistant sunglasses or goggles to protect their eyes.
Keep Your Body Warm
Warm bodies maintain comfortable eye temperatures and keep eyeballs lubricated. If you suffer from winter eye problems, you can try applying a warm compress to your eyelids. The added heat opens up clogged Meibomian glands that are responsible for secreting oil that coats the surface of the eyes and prevents the water component from evaporating.
Even though it may not feel like it, the human body loses moisture in cold temperatures and still requires the same amount of hydration in winter. Drinking water throughout the day boosts the immune system and maintains a consistent temperature balance. And without adequate hydration, eyes can dry out.
Use Eye Drops
Mild doses of dry eyes can be managed with non-prescription artificial tears. These can be used as often as required to supplement natural tear production. It’s best to use preservative-free eye drops because they contain fewer additives, which can irritate the eyes. Should this be unsuccessful, an optometrist can prescribe special eye drops that increase tear production.
Visit Your Optometrist
If you have persistent dry eyes and need to wear contact lenses in cold weather, or can’t seem to remedy dry eyes, then you may have underlying medical conditions such as inflammation of the eyelids (blepharitis), for example. An optometrist will conduct a comprehensive eye examination to diagnose the cause before recommending further steps to alleviate your condition.
Take a Break From Lenses
Eyes need oxygen for optimal functioning. Wearing contacts limits the amount that reaches the cornea. Interestingly, the eyes are the only tissue in the body that receives oxygen from the air and not through the blood supply, so giving them a break from constantly wearing contact lenses replenishes their oxygen supply. If you must wear contacts, then try not to wear them for more than 12 hours and take them out when you sleep.
Limit Screen Time
Considering the average adult has 8.5 hours of screen time per day, it’s unsurprising many develop computer vision syndrome. When eyes stare at screens for extended amounts of time, they constantly focus and refocus. Naturally, they take the strain, and because the blink rate is reduced, they don’t receive adequate lubrication and become extremely dry.
Recommendations for Wearing Glasses in Winter
Glasses offer a healthy break from contact lenses, block dirt and debris, and protect the eyes from harmful UV rays. If you’re prone to dry eyes in winter, they certainly won’t exacerbate the problem like contact lenses can and are generally cheaper over the long term.
Wear Glasses in the Evening
Keep your eyes resilient by switching between wearing glasses and contact lenses in cold weather. It’s a good time to pull out your glasses when your eyes need a break from a long day at work, especially if it’s more convenient to wear contacts in your profession. You should also avoid sleeping with contacts as it can increase the chance of infection and itchy eyes in winter.
Choose Glasses Over Contacts for Screen Time
We recommend wearing glasses when spending time in front of a screen. While there are claims that glasses with a blue-light coating better protect eyes, The American Academy of Ophthalmology hasn’t found any evidence to substantiate this. Eye strain from digital screens is caused by duration, not blue light. For many, working in front of a screen is unavoidable, in which case glasses are better to preserve eye health.
Purchase Prescription Sunglasses
Prescription sunglasses protect eyes better than over-the-counter sunglasses since they suit your unique prescription. They also block up to 100% of UV rays, making them the safest option for ocular health. Photochromic lenses are a popular and practical choice, as they darken on exposure to sunlight and return to a clear state in soft light. As long as you wear your glasses, you don’t have to worry about carrying around sunglasses too.
Select Clear Glasses Frames
Clear glasses frames are complementary to any age, eye color, hair color, and skin tone. They don’t distract from facial features and tend not to date as much as fashionable frames. You can also experiment with larger frame styles because they don’t overwhelm facial features as darker frames do.
How to Stop Glasses From Fogging Up in Winter
When cold lenses come into contact with significantly warmer air, the surrounding moisture condenses into water droplets that fog up the glass. You can prevent fogging by doing the following:
- Use an anti-fog product: They create a barrier on the lens that prevents condensation from forming. Ask your optometrist for brand recommendations.
- Wear a close-fitting mask: This prevents moisture from your mouth and nose from reaching your lenses. Masks with nose bridges work well.
- Clean your glasses: Keep lenses clean, as dirt and smudges provide more for condensation to cling to.
- Get a fog-prevention coating: Ask your optometrist if they can put an antifog coating on your lenses.
- Wear contacts: In some instances, the simplest way to avoid glasses fogging up is to wear contact lenses.
Winter Eye Safety Tips
If you wear contacts, you’re more likely to touch your eyes. It’s easy to contract viruses from contaminated surfaces. And let’s be honest, we don’t wash our hands 24/7, although the pandemic has placed greater emphasis on using hand sanitizer, which can curb the spread of viruses. Below are some additional winter eye care tips:
- Always wash your hands after touching foreign surfaces for at least 20 seconds with warm water. Carrying a bottle of sanitizer can come in handy when there’s no water nearby.
- Change contact lens solution every day to avoid the build-up of bacteria, which can cause infection.
- Monitor eye infections. Pink eye is common during winter and highly contagious. If you have an infection, consult your doctor to ensure you receive the correct treatment.
- Get your eyes tested. Most eye care professionals recommend a comprehensive eye examination every one to two years.
We hope our guide on how to prevent dry eyes in winter illustrates the treatment of dry and itchy eyes is fairly simple and straightforward, whether you wear contact lenses or glasses. LASIK eye surgery can also solve these common ocular health issues and is a healthier alternative to wearing contacts all the time. Ironically, due to lower humidity and cooler temperatures, winter is an excellent time to undergo this surgery. Contact Kraff Eye Institute today!
Why do my eyes water in winter?
As a defense against dehydrating air, your eyes tear up to increase lubrication. During winter, this reflex can overwhelm your tear ducts, causing your eyes to water.
Why are my eyes itchy in winter?
Dry air is the most common cause of itchy eyes in winter. When there’s less humidity in the air, the moisture on the eyes' surfaces evaporates, causing dry, itchy eyes.