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How Does Cold Weather Affect the Eyes?

Overview

A drop in temperature outside makes our eyes vulnerable to various problems. This is because cold weather affects the eyes in different ways. Eye problems may be due to direct exposure to cold, poor blood flow, and low ocular moisture.

Why is it Important to pay close attention to eye care during winter?

Extreme cold temperature changes various physiological processes in the eyes. Following are some of the reasons for the increase in eye problems during the winter season:

  • Loss of Eye Moisture. The air during the winter season is dry. It will take the moisture away from your eyes. To compensate for the dryness, the eyes  secrete excessive tears. Thus, some people may have excessive tearing after dryness.
  • Solar exposure . People, to get relief from cold weather, spend most of their time under the sun. Excessive solar exposure may damage your eyes not only in the summer but also in the winter season. Further, the sunlight is more powerful when reflected from snow, causing severe damage to the cornea.
  • Direct Heat Exposure. Another method that people use to get rid of the cold is a heater, in either the car or home. Using a heater further dries the air and causes dryness. Directing the air vent, in the car, right on the face increases the risk of eye dryness.
  • Increased Risk of Infection. There is an increased risk of viral infection during the winter season. The influenza virus may also affect the eyes and may cause conjunctivitis.
  • Altered Blood Supply. People may also have poor blood supply to their eyes. This is because the cold weather may result in constriction of blood vessels, which may cause inadequate blood supply.

How Does Cold Weather Affect Your Eyes?

Cold weather affects your eyes in various ways. Some of the eye problems that you may experience during the winter season are:

  • Dry Eyes. Because of the cold weather and low humidity, you may experience dry eyes. The condition becomes more severe if you are using contact lenses. People may experience redness, itching, and a gritty sensation inside the eyes due to dryness.
  • Painful Eyes. You may also experience pain in the eyes when there is extreme cold. Low temperatures pose a problem in completely opening the eyes. When you force your eyes to open, you experience pain due to corneal freezing. You might also experience eyelid spasms and blurred vision.
  • Vision Changes. Because of the inadequate blood supply to the eyes, you may experience double vision and blurriness. You may experience changes in vision at low temperatures. If your vision changes do not normalize within 30 minutes after coming to a relatively warmer place (like inside home), consult an eye specialist.
  • Heavy and Tired Eyes. You may also experience heavy eyes during the winter season. As the sun is mostly not visible, the body produces a substance known as melatonin. This substance makes us sleepier. Because of this, you may experience heavy feeling in the eyes.
  • Swelling. You may also have swelling and inflammation in your eyes because of excessive dryness. It is essential to consult your doctor as prolonged dryness may result in permanent damage. People may also have cold-induced corneal edema.
  • Sunburn. Apart from your skin, excessive solar exposure may cause sunburn in your eyes. If you have a sunburn in your eyes, you may experience itchiness, pain, and increased sensitivity to light. If left untreated, the sunburn in the eye may result in complications such as macular degeneration and reduced vision.
  • Increased Light Sensitivity. Winter may bring increased light sensitivity, especially for people who have sensitive eyes. Such people may experience frequent blinking and ocular discomfort. Even if your eyes are not sensitive, you are at risk of developing “snow blindness” during winter. Light sensitivity is a common issue in people who are indulging in skiing.
  • Excessive Tearing. Some people may experience excessive tearing during the winter season. Increased tear secretion is the compensatory mechanism of the eyes to manage dryness.

Tips for Eye Care in Cold Weather

As is evident from the above that cold weather and cold winds may harm eyes, people must take more care of their eyes during the winter. Some of the tips that may help in maintaining eye health during winter are:

  • Wear Sunglasses. You should wear sunglasses while moving out of your home during winter. The American Academy of Ophthalmologists recommends wearing goggles in winter to protect the eyes from harmful radiation. It is more critical during activities that include snow, such as skiing or other snow-related sports.
  • Keep Your Eyes Moist. You should keep your eyes hydrated during winter. Use humidifiers when inside your home. You may also administer artificial tears and eye ointments that provide lubrication. Regulate the temperature inside your house to ensure moisture retention in the air.
  • Prevent Infection. Winter season increases the risk of infection, so do not rub your eyes frequently, as it may cause infection. Remove any makeup, wash your face before going to bed, and avoid sharing personal makeup with others.
  • Get Rid of Indoor Allergens. Get rid of indoor allergens during winter. The allergens include animal dander, cockroach droppings, and house dust mites. People are more vulnerable to these allergens due to less ventilation in winter.
  • Avoid Warm Air. Warm air causes dry eyes. You should avoid warm air directly on your eyes. Do not use the hairdryer in such a way that it blows the air into your eyes. Also, move the air vents of the car away from your face.
  • Healthy Diet. Diet also helps in preventing eye problems during winter. Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids helps in ocular moisturization. Stay hydrated by drinking at least 6-8 glasses of water daily.
  • Blink Frequently. Blinking of eyes serves two important purposes. It helps the tears to spread all over the eyeball and aids in removing dust and other allergens. Thus, it is important to blink frequently during winter to prevent dry eyes and allergic reactions.
  • Limit Outdoor Hours. You should limit outdoor exposures and only go outside when required. People wearing contact lenses should take more care while leaving home.
  • Warm Compresses. Warm compresses may help in providing relief from redness, itching, and ocular discomfort. During warm compresses, soak a cloth in warm water and place it on your eyes for 10 minutes.
  • Visit an Eye Doctor. Cold weather and cold winds may result in chronic eye problems. If redness, pain, itching, and vision problems persist longer than expected, consult an eye specialist. It may be an infection or issue in the cornea.

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Conclusion

During the winter season, people are at risk for dry and painful eyes, swelling, redness, vision changes, an increase in light sensitivity, and watery eyes. We must take good care of our eyes and consult with an eye specialist if the problem persists.

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Verified By Dr Rachna Vinaya Kumar

MS, FAICO,FICO, MRCS Ed,

Consultant Paediatric Opthalmology, Neuro Opthalmology & Squint,

Apollo Hospitals, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad

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