Winter Eye Care

Ah, winter! It means shorter days, colder temperatures, and snow and ice in certain parts of the world. It’s time to break out the skis, sleds, and ice skates where you live, or make plans to journey to a winter wonderland.

But as the temperatures go down, eye discomfort can go up. That’s because winter brings lower humidity, chilly winds, crisp outdoor air, and dry, stuffy indoor heat. All those factors can dry out and irritate your eyes, and leave them feeling scratchy and burning. And when you’re huddled around an indoor heater to warm your chilly body parts, your eyes really feel the effects of moisture evaporating.

Why so many eye problems in winter? “On average, the humidity drops in the winter with the colder weather,” says Marissa K. Locy, O.D., an instructor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Ophthalmology. “In addition, most people turn on the heat in their homes or offices to combat the cold. So, what you end up having is lower humidity outside, and even lower humidity inside, making for warm, dry conditions where moisture can evaporate from the eye faster than normal.”1

Don’t leave your eye health out in the cold

Checking with the American Optometric Association (AOA)2, there’s a lot you can do for winter eye care:

Stay hydrated. It’s always a good idea to drink plenty of fluids no matter the season, and it can also keep your eyes moist, while warding off eye problems in winter. You have lots of good options; water is always best, but herbal tea, hot soup, and fruit and vegetable juices are great hydrators as well. Fruits and vegetables also have high water content, so munching on those helps with hydration and health, too. Even though you may not feel as thirsty as you might during a hot summer day, keep the hot and cold liquids coming.

Get a humidifier. Winter air has lower humidity and can dry out your eyes, so adding humidity to the air can add lubrication and reduce dry eye symptoms. You can get a smaller USB-powered humidifier for your office, and a larger model for other rooms in your house! Or get a portable humidifier that you can carry with you to the room where you’re hanging out in. Be sure to run it at night as well as in the daytime; your eyes can still get dried out while you’re sleeping.

Wear UV protection. Harmful ultraviolet (UV) A and UV B rays can reach your eyes even when there’s cloud cover, so be sure to wear your polarized sunglasses and a visor hat—they’re not just for summer! Snow and ice can reflect sunlight, increasing the amount of UV rays in your eyes, and potentially causing keratitis, an inflammation of the cornea, as well as photokeratitis (snow blindness). And sunglasses and hats can also keep dust and dirt particles from getting in your eyes and irritating them.

Don’t touch your eyes unless you've washed your hands. This can prevent the transmission of highly contagious diseases, such as conjunctivitis and herpes simplex.

But after you’ve washed your hands, try an eyelid scrub. To soothe your winter-beaten eyes, wrap a washcloth around your index finger, soak it in warm water, then apply it to the base of your eyelashes for about 20 seconds. “This helps stimulate blood flow where the glands produce oil for the tear film," says Daniel Bintz, O.D.3

Keep hot air from blowing directly into your eyes. When you crank up the heater in your car or other indoor space, make sure that the vents are positioned away from your face. Also, smoke from wood-burning fireplaces can irritate your eyes, so don’t sit so close to the roaring flame action.

Get a comprehensive eye examination. Winter can aggravate dry eye disease. If you tend to get dry, itchy eyes in winter, see your doctor of optometry, who can offer ways to protect your vision and diagnose and treat common vision problems. Even if dry eyes are less of a concern for you, an eye exam is good overall health protection, as eye doctors can detect many serious health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, and cancers before they produce symptoms.

More eye care steps you can take

These preventive measures not only head off eye problems in winter, they’re good ideas for any time of the year:

Watch your screen time. Being indoors to escape the cold and wet means you have more opportunities to watch TV shows, play games, jump on video calls, and more. But all those digital devices can give you digital eye strain, and make your eyes feel red, tired, and irritated. Try to look away from your screens every 20 minutes, remember to blink often, and use eye drops, such as Rohto® Digi Eye®, specially formulated to soothe the symptoms of digital eye strain.

Keep the eye drops handy. Winter can dry out your eyes—and eye drops, such as Rohto® Digi Eye®, can put back the moisture that cold, windy weather and hot, dry indoor heat take away.