How does cold winter weather affect our eyes?
11 November 2021
Wrap up warm and take care of your eye health!
Winter is soon approaching along with some of the most popular holidays of the year, meaning the weather is growing colder and the nights are getting longer. Whether you love winter for the festivities it brings, or you dislike the colder weather, we must all take steps to look after ourselves as the temperature drops. This includes taking care of our vision and eye health, as certain eye conditions such as dry eye syndrome can arise as the seasons change.
What is dry eye syndrome?
Dry eye syndrome is a common eye condition that occurs when your tears are unable to provide adequate lubrication for your eyes. Dry eyes can be caused by a variety of issues that disrupt the healthy tear film of your eye, which is spread across the eyes like a protective coating. Your tear film has three layers: lipid (fatty oils), aqueous fluid (water) and mucus. This balanced combination is what helps keep the surface of your eyes lubricated and reduces irritation. Problems with any of these three layers can lead to dry eyes when the combination becomes unbalanced.
During the colder seasons of autumn and winter, dry eye syndrome tends to affect more people due to a mixture of cold winds, a lack of moisture in the air, and increased use of central heating. Central heating is one of the biggest contributing factors in dry eyes, as it speeds up the evaporation of the eyes’ moisture. We also spend more time indoors with our central heating on during winter, which increases our exposure to dry air. This then leads to the symptoms most commonly associated with dry eyes, such as feelings of itchiness and soreness in the eyes along with a gritty sensation.
Can winter weather affect our eyes in other ways?
While dry eye syndrome is one of the most common eye conditions that crop up during the winter, it’s unfortunately not the only issue we can experience with our eye health in the colder months. Some of the other problems we may experience with our eyes this season include:
- Excess tearing – The opposite of dry eyes can also be an issue for your eyes during the colder months. Excess tearing and watery eyes can be caused by cold air and icy winds. One way of tackling this is by wearing sunglasses or goggles outdoors to protect your eyes from any harsh weather. If you experience watery eyes while indoors, eye drops may help alleviate your symptoms. If your excess tearing begins to affect your vision, it’s best to visit an optometrist for treatment.
- Light sensitivity – Winter skies may be dark and gloomy during the night, but snowfall and ice can create reflective surfaces that increase the amount of light around us. As the days grow shorter, the sun sets in the sky at an earlier time which means our eyes can be exposed to winter sunlight too. If you have sensitive eyes, you may experience increased blinking, irritation, and other symptoms of light sensitivity when exposed to bright winter light. Using sunglasses can help protect your eyes from UV rays to prevent sensitivity.
- Eye redness – The harsh winter conditions we normally experience at this time of year can also lead to eye redness and inflammation. Eye redness is common during winter as it is also caused by dry eyes from the colder weather and central heating. To reduce any discomfort or inflammation, applying a cold compress over your eyes can help alleviate any irritating symptoms.
- Snow blindness – Snow blindness (or Photokeratitis) occurs when your eyes are essentially sunburned after being exposed to UV light that is reflected off snow and ice. This condition can cause temporary eye pain and discomfort, but the symptoms usually only last for a few days. Wearing eye protection such as sunglasses or goggles can reduce your risk of developing snow blindness if you play any winter sports, such as skiing or sledging. If your symptoms persist, visit your optometrist to reduce the risk of serious complications or vision loss.
- Vision changes – Winter weather may be the culprit behind many eye conditions, but it can also lead to changes in your vision. Low temperatures can make the blood vessels in and around the eye constrict, which can cause blurriness and double vision. However, this vision change is usually temporary and your vision should return to normal once you move into a warmer environment and out of the cold. An optometrist can also use eye drops in your eyes to help the blood vessels shrink back to their normal size.
While you continue to wrap up warm this winter and look after your health, be sure to look after your eye health and vision too – this will help prevent any eye conditions or vision problems from worsening over the coming months. If you do experience any of the eye conditions listed here, please consult an eye care professional for further treatment. A lot of these symptoms are seasonal and temporary; however, they may become uncomfortable and potentially dangerous without medical attention.
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