In addition to our skin and our hair, winter also can take a toll on our eyes—and for many of the same reasons. When it’s cold outside, we want to spend more time inside, where it’s warm and dry. Unfortunately, these warm and dry conditions have a tendency to make our eyes feel dry and irritated.
But then, if we walk outdoors and it’s windy and/or cold out, our eyes can start to water—while somehow remaining dry. Really, it’s not ideal. Here’s what to know about winter dry eye, including symptoms to look for, and how to treat it.
What is winter dry eye?
“Dry eye” doesn’t only describe what you’re experiencing—it’s also the name of the condition. It’s possible to experience dry eye any time of year, as it’s the result of low tear production or quality, but according to Marissa K. Locy, O.D., a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Ophthalmology, it tends to get worse during the winter.
“On average, the humidity drops in the winter with the colder weather,” Locy explains. “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.”
What are the symptoms of winter dry eye?
The symptoms of winter dry eye tend to occur in both eyes, and be worse for people who wear contact lenses. According to the Mayo Clinic, these symptoms can include:
- A stinging, burning, gritty, or scratchy sensation in your eyes
- Watery eyes
- Eye redness
- Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Blurred vision or eye fatigue
How to treat winter dry eye
The bad news is that there is no cure for dry eye. But the good news is that there are different ways to manage the condition, including:
But if you’ve already tried all of the above and continue to experience dry eye over extended periods of time, it’s time to see a doctor. They can assess the situation, and either recommend other treatment options, or refer you to a specialist.