The Unexpected Thing That Will Harm Your Sight In The Winter

We all know the importance of eye health, but it's not very often we think about winter eye care. Learn how to keep your eyesight on point this season.

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Winter Eye Care, girl outside in the winter
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Winter can take a toll on your eye health – but taking these precautions will help

We understand the last thing on your mind when taking a winter stroll or cozying up at home with a cup of hot tea is your eyes, but winter eye care is more important than you may realize. Damaging sun reflections off snow and dry indoor air conditions can irritate your eyes and impair your vision. Here are some things that can affect our eyes in the winter, how you can care for your eyes this season and help prevent long-term eye health problems.

(Related: 6 Eye Doctor-Approved Ways to Protect Your Eye Health)

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Winter Eye Care Indoors, woman drinking tea indoors
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Winter eye care for indoor air conditions

The most common eye complaint in winter is dryness, which creates a burning or itchy sensation or the feeling that a foreign object is in your eye. The cause may be the lower humidity levels inside your home or office when the heat is on and the windows are closed. (Keep this quick fix in mind when you’re experiencing dry or irritated eyes.)

People who wear contact lenses are the ones most likely to experience this problem, but it can affect anyone, particularly peri and post-menopausal women who may have eye dryness because of loss of estrogen. “Sometimes people come in complaining that their eyes are watering too much,” says Dr. Pierre Faber, chair of the department of ophthalmology at Providence Health Care in Vancouver. “That’s because their eyes don’t tear as they should and when they get dry and irritated, it makes them water like crazy.”

Over time, dryness can cause blurred vision or damage the cornea, which can also lead to blurriness.

How to protect your eyes

Keep your eyes moist

Drink extra fluids and use a hot or cold air humidifier while you’re awake and your eyes are open.

Carry eye drops with you 

Lubricating eye drops provide comfort. “These saline, tear gels or ocular lubricant drops are available over the counter at drugstores. They help supplement the natural tear layer and keep the tears from evaporating so quickly,” explains Ralph Chou, an associate professor in the school of optometry at the University of Waterloo.

Try blinking more often

When you’re concentrating on a complex visual task, such as using a computer, you just don’t blink as often, which can exacerbate winter dryness, says Chou. If your eyes feel dry at work, make a point of blinking more often.

(Related: My Eyesight Is Getting Worse. Could It Be Related to the Pandemic?)

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Winter Eye Care Outdoors, girl drinking tea inside
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Winter eye care for outdoor glare

When you spend several hours or more skiing, skating or shovelling snow, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun’s reflection on ice or snow can damage the eye’s surface, causing an inflammation of the cornea called keratitis, says Dr. Lorne Bellan, head of the department of ophthalmology at the University of Manitoba and president of the Canadian Ophthalmological Society.

Keratitis makes the eyes red, sore and sensitive to light, and may require treatment with antibiotic eye drops to prevent infection. Too much exposure to UV light also plays a key role in the formation of cataracts, a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision. Extreme cold is usually not an issue, as our eyes have built-in defences against cold, including tearing up and squinting.

How to protect your eyes

Shield your eyes

Wear sunglasses that protect against UV light. “New snow on a ski slope has an almost 100 per cent reflection of UV light, so you’re getting a double dose of sun – from above and below,” says Chou. Look for glasses with a minimum UV 400 protection (they block both UVA and UVB). Since cataracts are the result of cumulative damage, even children should don sunglasses on bright winter days, says Faber. When skiing, wear goggles that have polycarbonate lenses, which block UV radiation.

If you’re outdoors on a blustery day, sunglasses will protect your eyes from the drying effects of the wind.

Limit your time outdoors

If you’ve forgotten your goggles or sunglasses, don’t spend more than a few hours outdoors on sunny or bright overcast days.

Next, 7 Foods That May Improve Your Eyesight

Originally Published in Best Health Canada

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