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Winter causes woes for eyes – here’s how to manage them

Winter is known as the season for colds and flu. But, it can also be a particularly tumultuous time for eyes. Drier air, the  winter sun and exposure to artificial heat as well as viruses are some of the causes of winter eye woes.

This is according to Zelda van Coller of Zelda van Coller Optometrists who says winter can affect eye comfort, health and vision.

“Winter is not a friendly season for our eyes. Dry eyes, red eyes, watery eyes, puffiness, blurred vision, and eye infections are quite common at this time of year. A lot of these unfavourable reactions are a result of the winter air.”

She explains that as the air in winter gets colder, it also gets drier; “Our eyes’ surface is 99% water and loses moisture as the air dries out. This can cause the eyes to become dehydrated and irritated. Compounding the problem is the increased use of heaters and air conditioners. The warm dry air we encounter indoors when we use artificial heat to warm our homes and offices has an even more dehydrating effect on our eyes than the cold, dry air outside. Indoor air that is re-circulated also contains other dehydrating factors such as ambient microorganisms and bacteria in bigger amounts than fresh air outdoors.

Van Coller recommends using humidifiers in your home and office space to help reduce dry air conditions. Using quality, moisturizing eye drops and other treatments recommended by your optometrist will also help to alleviate dry eyes in winter.

As people retreat indoors on cold days, they are also inclined to spend more time watching TV or browsing the internet and books on tablets. This increased screen time can also contribute to eye fatigue and other bothersome symptoms.

“Try to limit screen time, blink more often, and consider using spectacle glasses with blue light control.”

The correct eye care can help to alleviate eye irritations as well control reactions to allergens present in the environment at this time of year. Many people suffer from environmental allergies to grasses and dust that are common in winter. If you are in doubt over how to manage your symptoms, ask your optometrist.”

She points out that some viruses, which cause colds and flu, can also give rise to eye infections such as viral conjunctivitis.

“If you are experiencing any uncomfortable symptoms such as a gritty feeling in your eyes, an itchy or burning sensation, excessive tearing, swollen eyelids or discharge, make an appointment to see your optometrist as soon as possible to avoid long term damage to your eyes.” Constant rubbing of the eyes can cause astigmatism. Chronic dry eyes can cause inflammation and growths on the eye (Pterygiums) that can cause poor vision etc.

Van Coller reminds us that South Africa’s winter sun, especially on the Highveld is particularly harsh. UV rays and glare are especially damaging to eyes. When outdoors and driving, she advises the use of sunglasses with UV protection.

“We know that excessive UV exposure from direct sunlight puts us at greater risk for skin cancer and can even lead to cataracts. So it is a good idea to wear sunglasses when outdoors, even in winter.”

She concludes with these quick care tips:

  • Place a humidifier in your home or office
  • Wear sunglasses to protect against glare and UV rays
  • Keep the eyes hydrated with the correct eye care treatments
  • Take a break from electronic devices
  • Keep your distance from artificial heat sources
  • Place a warm cloth over each eye for two to three minutes to encourage natural tear secretion
  • Wash your hands regularly especially if you have a cold or come into contact with people with colds – avoid touching or rubbing your eyes!
  • Drink lots of fluids

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