Dry eyes in winter: symptoms, treatment and prevention

The symptoms of patients with dry eyes in winter tend to worsen when there are risk factors for their development. There is burning, itching, redness, and local pain. Fortunately, there are effective therapeutic measures.

If you want to know a little more about this condition, we have prepared a short article to clarify some basic aspects. Keep reading!

Main symptoms of dry eyes in winter in pediatrics

Dry eye in winter affects all ages and genders equally. Depending on the age group, the signs may be more or less obvious and the activities that trigger the problem are also different:

  • In babies: the presence of conjunctival redness and poor ocular opening is usually enough to suspect this clinical picture in infants. When there is intense burning, they can bring their hands to their face and try to rub their eyes.
  • In children and adolescents: Dry eyes appear at this age when using electronic devices with a digital display. Blurred vision and eye strain are more common.

Symptoms of dry eyes in winter in adults

The symptoms are identical to those of the adolescent. Rejection of intense light sources (photosensitivity), foreign body sensation, itching, burning, redness and occasional pain tend to appear. Insertion into different work activities can make symptoms worse. This is the case of patients who work several hours a day in front of computers, as well as in dry or dusty environments, such as mining.

Those who suffer from chronic diseases may see the symptoms of dry eyes worsened in winter, due to the effect of their drugs:

  • Arterial hypertension: with diuretics and some antihypertensives.
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome: with the use of oral contraceptives (OAC).
  • Depression: with the use of sertraline, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI).

Some drugs have among their adverse effects eye dryness, enhanced in cold months.

Eyes suffer more in winter

The colder months of the year can bring various health problems. The incidence of dry eyes increases for the following reasons:

  • Wind, cold and snow: Although these types of conditions can be associated with rain, most of the time there is little humidity in the environment. This can cause destabilization of the tear film, reducing its thickness and making it more prone to evaporation. Some cells are detached from the most superficial layer of the cornea, giving rise to a clinical picture called punctate keratitis.
  • Heating: A direct consequence of what was explained in the previous section is the activation of the heating systems in the home. There are several mechanisms, depending on the product used, making it necessary to use humidifiers to avoid dry eyes.
  • Electronics devices: Although the direct effect of light on the eyes can favor the appearance of this syndrome, it decreases the frequency of blinking when working at the computer. In patients affected by this habit, itching and blurred vision are usually the first symptoms to appear.

Discover more: Tips to avoid dry eye symptoms from the use of screens

When to go to a professional?

The doctor specializing in this pathology is the ophthalmologist. However, in mild or uncomplicated cases, patients may be satisfactorily evaluated by a family physician, internist, or pediatrician. It will be necessary to go to a professional in some of the following contexts:

  • Existence of symptoms that considerably decrease the quality of life.
  • Presence of any chronic pathology as a history, especially systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Absence of clinical improvement with the administration of symptomatic treatments and the application of preventive measures.

How are dry eyes in winter diagnosed?

Even though the symptoms can be very obvious, the ophthalmologist could make use of different diagnostic tests. These are used to determine with certainty the cause of dry eyes, which, as we said before, occurs due to a low production of tears as well as an increase in their elimination.

The Schirmer test

It consists of placing very fine filter strips at the junction of the lateral third with the middle third of the lower eyelid (of both eyes). They should be left in that position for five minutes.

During this time the tear film must permeate the strip longitudinally. Upon removal, the doctor will evaluate the distance traveled and determine whether or not tear production is adequate.

It is a simple and inexpensive technique that usually provides reliable results. There are alternatives based on the measurement of some substances naturally present in tears, like lactoferrin and lysozyme. In fact, according to research, the determination of lactoferrin in tears could be quite useful for the diagnosis of Sjögren's syndrome.

Evaluation of tear tear

When there is no flickering, the tear film tends to break little by little. At that time, the characteristic symptoms of dry eyes appear: itching, burning, redness and pain.

The tear tear test consists of instilling the ocular surface with an absorbable dye with a low allergic capacity called fluorescein. This is orange in color and to visualize it correctly, a blue light must be applied to the eye.

The ophthalmologist will measure the time it takes for the stained tear film to break down, which in normal conditions should be after 10 seconds. If it happens before, the presence of dry eye could be confirmed.

Other methods to diagnose dry eyes

There are other complementary techniques that your doctor might use to confirm the diagnosis. Some of them are the following:

  • Osmolarimeter: for severe cases. It allows to determine the osmotic pressure in the tears.
  • Detection of inflammatory markers: it is only used in clinical research because of its cost.
  • Meibography: determines some characteristics of the Meibomian glands, located in the eyelids and that collaborate in the production of tears.

The role of the tear is key to lubricate the eye. Its absence or rapid breakage determines the presence of dryness.

Find out more: Why do my eyes get dry?

Treatments available for dry eye in winter

The use of artificial tears is widespread in the general population. They cause few adverse effects and the symptomatic relief they provide is almost immediate. In addition, there are several commercial preparations available today:

  • Saline solution.
  • Mucopolysaccharides.
  • Synthetic polymers.

The doctor may indicate any of these, depending on the pathophysiology of the condition that affects the patient. On the other hand, hyaluronic acid is a common substance that is found naturally in the eyes and there are several pharmaceutical formulations with satisfactory results.

The ophthalmologist may suggest some lifestyle changes to complement the treatment and strengthen the prevention of this disease. Among the main recommendations we find the following:

  • Feeding: consume plenty of fluids and increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Protection: decrease the intensity of light on digital screens and use sunglasses against the sun.
  • Humidity: purchase a humidifier for home or work.
  • Hygiene: ensure proper cleaning of contact lenses.

Following simple measures can reduce the condition of dry eyes in winter. In any case, a visit to an ophthalmologist to confirm the quality of the tear never hurts.