Winter Eye Health

Damaging reflections from the sun off snow and ice and dry indoor air conditions can irritate your eyes and impair your vision. Caring for your eyes this winter season can help prevent long-term eye health problems such as damaged corneas and cataracts. Here are some helpful tips to keep your peepers bright and healthy during the winter months.

Dryness is the most common eye complaint in winter. It can create a burning or itching sensation or feel like you have something stuck in your eye. Lower humidity levels in your home or office are usually the culprit. Spending time outside on windy winter days can also have a drying effect.

Contact lens wearers are most susceptible to this problem, but it can affect anyone, particularly peri- and post-menopausal women who may have eye dryness because of the loss of estrogen. Over time, dryness can cause blurred vision or damage the cornea, which can also lead to blurred vision.

The key to ridding yourself of this pesky dryness is to keep moisture in your life — in and outside the body: moisten your eyes with artificial tears, drink extra fluids and use a hot- or cold-air humidifier while you’re awake and your eyes are open. For contact wearers, it’s a good idea to always keep a bottle of lubricating eye drops on hand. They’re available over the counter at pharmacies, drug stores and grocery stores and help supplement your natural tear layer, keeping your tears from evaporating so quickly.

Blink more! 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. If your eyes feel dry at work, make a point of blinking more often.

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

Spending several hours in the winter sun skiing, skating or shovelling snow, exposes you to damaging ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun’s reflection on ice or snow. This exposure can damage the eye’s surface, causing inflammation of the cornea called keratitis. 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.

The best protection for your eyes when it comes to UV light exposure is simple AND stylish — sunglasses! Gone is the time when glasses wearers had to suffer through looking like a bad 80’s sitcom star (although those clip n’ flip add-ons were kind of cool in a nerdy way). These days sunglasses can be made in all prescriptions, with tonnes of fashionable frames to choose from. Or if you’re partial to your everyday frames, Transitions™ photochromic adaptive lenses naturally change their tint when exposed to varying levels of sunlight! Look for glasses with a minimum UV 400 protection (they block both UVA and UVB). And make sure every family member wears them. Since cataracts are the result of cumulative damage, even children should don sunglasses on bright winter days. When skiing, wear goggles that have polycarbonate lenses, which block UV radiation.

Limit 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.