The winter weather can be particularly harsh on your eyes and presents new and different reasons to protect them. Here are some of the ways winter can affect your vision, or exacerbate an eye condition, and tips for prevention.
Snow and ice are reflective, so the sun’s ultraviolet rays can reach your eyes from below as well as above – and not just when skiing. UV exposure is cumulative too so, although you may not feel any immediate effects, you could be putting yourself at risk of long term damage if you don’t wear protective sunglasses. This is because sunlight may damage the retina and lens of the eye, increasing the risk of developing conditions such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
It’s especially important to have good quality sunglasses or goggles if you are hitting the slopes so make sure you invest in eyewear that complies with the safety standard BS EN ISO 12312-1-2013, or those made by a reputable manufacturer that have a CE mark.
Driving in winter
Driving at night can always be somewhat of a challenge, but it can become even more of a daunting endeavor in long dark winter nights. Not only are roads often wet and slippery, the glaring light from oncoming vehicles can be a nuisance in snowy conditions. So, make sure your eyesight is fine enough to handle such situations. Similarly, don’t forget to check out the condition of your vehicle’s lights and windscreen; both should be clean and well functioning.
If you already have dry eyes, central heating may exacerbate it. The treatment for dry eyes depends upon the cause, so it is important to speak to your optometrist if your eyes feel dry.
There are some simple steps you can take to minimise the discomfort caused by dry eyes in winter:
Regulate the Temperature Indoors:
As described earlier, dryness of the air can be a cause of concern in winter, especially if you already have dry eyes. The issue can escalate further due to high temperatures people usually set indoors. So, turning down your central heating to a mild temperature can be the best thing for ensuring ample moisture retention in your eyes.
Many people complain of a worsening dry eye condition when they read or use computer. The reason can be quite simple; our blinking slows down when we engage in any activity requiring dedicated visual attention. One effective way to get around this problem is to blink more, so that our eyes continue to produce enough lubrication in form of tears.
Defying the need of heating systems in winter is not possible, but they also result in loss of moisture in the air, which can compromise the quality of indoor air. This boosts your probability of getting dry eyes. Under such circumstances, nothing can serve better than a humidifier, not hindering with your indoor heating but still maintaining ample levels of moisture in the air to keep your eyes comfortable.
Don’t Linger Around Heat Sources:
In places and situations where heating is on without a humidifier, it’s better for people with dry eyes to distance themselves from heat sources like heaters and radiators.
Artificial Tears Can Also Help:
In case your dry eyes continue to bother you despite following these tips, you better resort to a seasoned eye doctor who can examine your eyes in detail. Quite often, they also recommend artificial tears to help you with moistening up your dry eyes. These artificial tears comprise of a specific combination of oil, mucus and water, which also helps manage rapid evaporation.
Regulating Your Diet
Visual function and the elements constituting it, including your eyes, are designed to function effectively as a cohesive unit of a machine and diet happens to serve as the fuel of that machinery. So, for seamless performance of all body functions including the visual function, you better regulate your diet. Here is how:
Add Cold Water Fish to Your Diet:
Cold water fish are packed with omega-3 based essential fatty acids, which are considered helpful in retaining moisture in your eyes. Making cold water fish a part of your winter diet will offer your eyes much needed lubrication to survive through dehydrating winter season. Some popular cold water fish options include tuna, mackerel and halibut.
Hydrating Yourself is the Key:
One of the best ways to fight dry eyes during winter is to keep yourself appropriately hydrated. Experts recommend drinking at least 8 glasses of water every single day to do so. Enough moisture in your eyes means fewer problems for them to run through the cold season.
Keep a Safe Distance from Electronic Devices – Try 20:20:20 Rule:
Many people tend to spend evenings out in summer, but winter somehow ends up confining most of us indoors. This means your eyes glued to laptops and screens not only through the day, but most of the evening and night as well. Add the time spent in front of TV at home during the holiday season, never getting enough of your favorite serials, seasons and latest flicks; not to mention the screen time over your mobile phone.
All this extensive screen exposure results in less of eye blinking, also reducing the amount of tears needed to be produced by our eyes, causing pain, itch and redness. If you find yourself unable to stay away for long from your beloved electronic devices, the least you can do is to incorporate 20:20:20 rule in your daily routine.
This involves removing your eyes from any screen and looking at something else at least 20 feet away from you for a minimum of 20 seconds. This helps in reducing digital eyestrain, which can eventually affect your vision negatively.
The lower levels of light in winter can make reading and close tasks more difficult, especially for older people and those with existing vision problems. Extra light in general can help and lighting for these sorts of activities should be as close as possible and be flexible enough to direct exactly where you need it most.
In cold and windy conditions, many people complain that their eyes water more than normal. Wearing spectacles will provide protection against the wind, even if you don’t usually wear them outdoors.
Falls and the elderly in winter
Many people do not recognise the link between poor vision and falls in the elderly, and this is especially important in winter when the nights are longer. It’s important that people have regular sight tests. People over 60 are entitled to NHS funded sight tests so if you, a friend, or a member of your family are in this age range, make sure you have regular check-ups.
A Stitch in Time Saves Nine!
If you are among those who prefer rubbing off their eyes when they start to pain and itch, hoping for the best, it’s about time you start paying attention to them as soon as they start bothering you.
One of the simplest and most effective ways can be placing a damp warm cloth over them for 15 minutes. However, if you continue to experience chronic eye pain on a regular basis despite this, immediately go for an eye exam where a seasoned eye doctor can examine your eyes thoroughly and recommend a course of action.
If you still have difficulty seeing, book an appointment with your optometrist.
- Winter Eye Health infographic
- 15 Winter Eye Care Tips – No 10 is so Effective but Overlooked