You need to protect your eyes when the weather is dry or windy. During the colder seasons, relative humidity indoors is low. Outdoors, wind can blow dust, pollution, ice and snow. Find out how to protect yourself from dry eyes, allergens, irritation, and injury.
Dry Eye from Low Indoor Humidity
Dry eye is a common eye complaint. The eyes may feel itchy, burning, irritated, sore or gritty.
The tear film has three layers: a thin mucus layer, an alkaline watery layer and an oily layer that slows evaporation. Blinking renews the tear film. However, infrequent blinking can lead to tired, dry eyes. In cold weather, indoor heating systems reduce the humidity in the air. This can dry out the eyes. Also, we tend to stay indoors, staring at screens. Our blink rate goes down when using the computer which contributes to dry eye syndrome. Therefore, indoors in winter is a setup for dry eye.
Use an inexpensive hygrometer to measure indoor humidity. Indoor humidity should be between 30% and 40% to prevent condensation in the winter. Some central heating systems automatically humidify the air. If you tend to get irritated eyes in low humidity, run a humidifier. Also look into homeopathic eye drops and other dry eye relief aids.
Protect Your Eyes Outdoors
Wind alone can dry out the tear film. Wind can also blow smoke, dust, allergens, snow, tiny ice particles and pollution. These eye irritants can cause mild to serious symptoms.
Protect your eyes from dry, windy weather outdoors:
- Prescription glasses and fashion sunglasses provide some protection. However, wind and contaminants can get around the lenses and irritate the eye.
- Wear wrap-around glasses, goggles, or sunglasses outdoors. Some fit over your existing prescription glasses. For serious athletes, prescription goggles are available from the optometrist.
- Ski goggles are essential during any outdoor winter sport or recreational activity such as snowmobiling.
- Cyclists and motorcyclists should wear goggles or wrap-around sunglasses.
- Always bring clean water so you can flush the eyes if they become irritated.
- Bring a first-aid kit and learn what to do if a small object enters the eye.
- If you have seasonal allergies, ask your doctor about allergy medication. Some allergy medicines have a “break-in” period and need to be used regularly during allergy seasons. Washing your face instantly removes allergens.
- Use preservative free artificial tears or homeopathic eye drops every few hours outdoors to maintain moisture. Avoid “get the red out” drops, as they can make symptoms worse.
Consult an eye doctor or emergency room physician if you have serious symptoms after going outside.
If you have ongoing, chronic dry eye, consult an eye doctor.
Up Next: See our page on Dry Eye.
- D. Borchman, et al, Human meibum lipid conformation and thermodynamic changes with meibomian-gland dysfunction, Investigative and Visual Science, June, 2011 ↩
- I.A. Butovich, J.C. Arciniega, et al, Meibomian Lipid Films and the Impact of Temperature, Investigations in Ophthalmology and Visual Science, November, 2010 ↩