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February 27, 2017

Dry Eyes? There’s a Fix for That

by John Hastings

Whether you like winter or hate it, this season can make you cry. Walk outside, and the wind and chilly temps (and glare off the snow, when that’s on the ground) will start your eyes watering. Duck back indoors, and the forced heat plus dry air leave your eyes uncomfortable and itchy. Most people tend to accept eye irritation as just one of winter’s challenges, but they shouldn’t, according to ophthalmologist Carolyn Shih, MD, director of refractive surgery for Northwell Health Physician Partners. “A little care and protection can keep your eyes healthy through the winter months,” she says. Here’s how to avoid eye misery during this bitter season.

Use Lotion. Not on your eyes -- on your face. “Moisturizing around your eyes will prevent thickening and flaking of the skin, which can interfere with the tear ducts and increase dryness,” explains Dr. Shih. Keeping your tear ducts in good working order also helps prevent itchy eyes, which helps you avoid a frustrating cycle: itchy eyes, followed by rubbing to relieve the itch, followed by more irritation, followed by more rubbing.

Turn on the Humidifier. Keeping the air moist indoors will help preserve the tear film over your eyes, reducing irritation, says Dr. Shih. A humidifier in the bedroom helps, but if you spend long hours in front of a computer, consider getting a desktop humidifier. “These work great for people who sit at a desk all day,” Dr. Shih says.

Size up on sunglasses. Frames with larger lenses are not merely fashionable; they block more glare (which is especially useful in winter months, when the sun sits low on the horizon) and offer greater protection from the wind. What’s more, they have a big payoff over the long run. “Even when there’s cloud cover, UV light scatters off buildings and snow and shines in your eyes,” Dr. Shih says. “Long-term exposure to that kind of light can raise the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.”

Buy some tears. Even if you don’t typically use over-the-counter artificial tears, they can be a big help if winter is doing a number on your eyes. If OTC drops don’t take care of the problem, ask your doctor whether you should consider a prescription version.

Check your meds. Irritatingly enough, dry eyes can be a side effect of medication. For instance, experts know that some kinds of blood pressure medication and certain antidepressants can leave your eyes feeling dry and scratchy, says Dr. Shih. Your doctor may be able to suggest an alternative medication, and can also check for other treatable conditions that might be adding to the problem. “Rosacea and autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis can trigger dry eyes,” she says.