Winter Eye Care

Winter Eye Care

Woman standing in snow with ski goggles on head

Fairbanksans experience some of the coldest winter weather in the country. Cold winter air can take a toll on our bodies, and it is especially hard on our eyes. In this blog, we’ll discuss how winter weather affects your eyes and the steps you can take to protect them.

Dry or Irritated Eyes

Exposure to cold, dry winter air can cause the eyes to lose moisture faster than usual, leading to symptoms of Dry Eye such as irritation, excessive watering, redness, scratchy or burning feelings, and blurry vision. Many of the heat sources we use in our homes, such as central heating or wood, cause the indoor air to become dry as well. There are several ways to minimize eye irritation from dry air in the winter:

  • Use preservative-free artificial tears frequently
  • Use warm eye compresses, such as a Bruder mask or a washcloth soaked in warm water
  • Thoroughly remove eye makeup and clean eyelids/lashes daily
  • Wear goggles on cold days or during outdoor activities
  • Opt for glasses rather than contact lenses, which can contribute to dry eyes
  • Use a humidifier in your home
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Eat foods high in Omega-3, such as salmon, or take a supplement

Ultraviolet Light and Glare

UV Light exposure is especially dangerous in winter, when snow reflects up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays. Excess exposure to UV can lead to snow blindness, also known as photokeratitis, or sunburn of the eye. Much like a sunburn on the skin, you may not realize that you have snow blindness until after the damage has occurred. This condition may cause pain, redness, blurry vision, light sensitivity, watery eyes, and even temporary vision loss. Exposure to UV also increases your risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, pterygium, and cancer of the eye. This risk increases in high-altitude environments. 

In addition to UV damage, sunlight that is reflected off of snow and ice causes glare, which can reduce visual clarity and lead to blurry vision, eye strain, and reduced visibility. This is especially dangerous on the road, as it makes objects such as cars, animals, or pedestrians harder for drivers to see. 

The best way to protect your eyes from UV and glare is by wearing appropriate eye wear:

  • Polarized sunglasses-polarized sunglasses block 100% of the sun’s harmful UV rays, while also cutting horizontal glare. This is ideal for anyone who drives a car or spends time outdoors. Because UV is present even on overcast days, it is important to wear sunglasses outdoors when it is light out, even in the winter. Polarized sunglasses are available with or without prescription lenses.
  • Polarized goggles-goggles are a great option for those who are active outdoors. They protect the eyes from impact and reduce discomfort from cold, dry air, while polarized lenses enhance vision and block UV rays. Goggles should be worn for all outdoor activities and chores, including skiing, snow machining, running, and snow shoveling. They can often be made with a prescription insert or worn over prescription glasses if necessary. 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D, often called the Sunshine Vitamin, is both a dietary nutrient and a hormone produced by our bodies when we are exposed to sunlight. As winter days grow shorter and darker, our bodies produce less of this vital nutrient, leading to vitamin D deficiency. In the body, vitamin D deficiency leads to a condition known as rickets or osteomalacia, in which the bones become brittle and misshapen. In the eyes, vitamin D levels have been linked to Macular Degeneration (AMD), uveitis, dry eye, and glaucoma. Getting enough vitamin D is essential for both eye and overall health. Foods that are high in vitamin D include salmon, egg yolk, and some fortified foods like milk. Because Vitamin D is so hard to come by in the winter, you may also want to talk to your doctor about having your vitamin D levels checked. They can recommend an appropriate supplement dosage, if necessary. 

With a few simple steps, you can ensure your eyes stay safe, healthy and comfortable this winter. The best way to protect your eyes is with an annual eye exam. Call or text to schedule: (907) 328-2920. 

References:

Bénédicte M. J. Merle, Rachel E. Silver, Bernard Rosner, Johanna M. Seddon; Associations Between Vitamin D Intake and Progression to Incident Advanced Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2017;58(11):4569-4578. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/iovs.17-21673.

Chiu ZK, Lim LL, Rogers SL, Hall AJ. Patterns of Vitamin D Levels and Exposures in Active and Inactive Noninfectious Uveitis Patients. Ophthalmology. 2020 Feb;127(2):230-237. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2019.06.030. Epub 2019 Jul 11. PMID: 31519386.

Sridhar, Uma, and Koushik Tripathy. “Commentary: Dry eye syndrome and vitamin D deficiency.” Indian journal of ophthalmology vol. 68,6 (2020): 1026-1027. doi:10.4103/ijo.IJO_398_20

Ayyagari, Radha et al. “Association of severity of primary open-angle glaucoma with serum vitamin D levels in patients of African descent.” Molecular vision vol. 25 438-445. 9 Aug. 2019

Written By: Gina Stafford, COA, LDO, ABOC

Photo by Alesia Kazantceva on Unsplash

Posted in: Uncategorized

 
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