During the winter months, you bundle up under scarves and sweaters and switch to a richer moisturizer, but how much attention do you pay to your eyes? Dry air and harsh winds are among the irritants that can lead to burning eyes, itchiness, and blurry vision. Fortunately, there are some easy habits you can adopt to protect yourself. Follow these six simple steps to keep your eyes healthy this winter.
1. Wear UV-Blocking Sunglasses
During a recent ski trip to Banff, I was surprised to witness the number of people on the mountain without any type of protective eyewear. While most skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers on the mountain had the proper gear to protect their head, body, hands and feet, they fell short on protecting one of their bodies’ most valuable assets – their eyes.
I was reminded that many people think that protecting their eyes from the sun is only necessary when it’s warm outside. During the summer months, the mental checklist for sun protection includes sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. However, it’s easy to forget to take these same protective measures once the snow starts to fall.
The danger in this situation is ultraviolet (UV) radiation — invisible rays of energy emitted from the sun 365 days a year. There are two main types of UV rays that reach the earth’s surface, known as UVA and UVB, both of which can have damaging effects on eyes and skin. When eyes absorb too much UV light, it can lead to serious eye conditions such as cataracts, retinal damage, growths on the front of the eye and eye cancers, especially on the delicate skin surrounding the eyes. People with lighter coloured eyes and skin are even more at risk for damage as they have less of the protective pigment that helps absorb these rays.
Unfortunately, many simply don’t understand the long-term damage UV rays can have. According to the Canadian National Institute For the Blind (CNIB), only nine per cent of Canadians are aware that sun can cause permanent harm to their eyes. While UV rays are undoubtedly stronger during the spring and summer months, people shouldn’t ignore these harmful effects as soon as fall arrives. Those who are keen to get on the mountain after the first snow fall should be particularly mindful since UV exposure increases on reflective surfaces, such as snow.
There are several proactive measures you can take to ensure your eyes remain in good health. The first step is to be cautious year-round while exposing your eyes to the sun. Wearing proper protective gear is important, which includes UV-blocking sunglasses with wrap-around frames to keep the sun out from the sides, and broad-brimmed hats.
2. Use a Humidifier or Lubricating Drops
Cold, dry air can irritate eyes, and indoor heaters also eliminate moisture from the air, which can lead to burning and blurry vision. A lot of people can mistake this for an allergy or infection, but it's just natural tears drying out. One option is to crack open a window while you sleep at night or at night or use a humidifier. While driving, aim heating vents at your feet, not your face. Over-the-counter preservative-free artificial tears may also provide immediate relief but make sure you choose your eye drops wisely. Although artificial tears lubricant ointments are effective and can be used up to four times a day and if you need drops more often, use preservative-free tears that you can use as many times as you need to. But you need to make sure you stay away from those that tout redness relief because they’re actually more irritating.
3. Drink Plenty of Water
Drink a few extra glasses of water each day during the winter. Or, if you prefer hot beverages when it’s cold out, green tea is said to be great for dry eyes (thanks to its antioxidant properties). Remember, full body hydration is very important when it comes to preventing dry eye symptoms. People always forget to hydrate from within and getting enough water daily can make a huge difference, particularly if you are going to be outside in dry and windy conditions.
4. Eat More Fish
Research suggests that what you put into your body also affects your eyes. Eating a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids could help alleviate dry eyes and our bodies can’t produce on their own so it's a good practice to eat more fish or take an omega-3 supplement. According to a recent review of seven studies published in the Medical Science Monitor. Mackerel, tuna, salmon, anchovies, and trout are all good sources of these beneficial oils. You should aim for about 3.5 ounces of these fatty fish to get about 1 gram of omega-3s. Also, make sure to eat foods that are rich in vitamin A, C and E.
5. Keep Your Hands Off
The itching, burning, and irritation associated with dry eyes may tempt you to rub your eyes, but that's a no-no — no matter what time of year it is. Although you may think this will offer some relief, resist the temptation. Rubbing your eyes is like itching a mosquito bite it will only makes things worse and causes more irritation." It could also lead to infection. There is a lot of bacteria on your hands, and it could get into your eyes.
Instead of rubbing your eyes take a blink breaks from your computer and television screens . According to a report by The Vision Council, approximately 22 percent of people said they had dry eye because of digital eyestrain. That’s because when you stare at the screen, you blink about 50 percent less and that blink is what distributes the tear across the surface of your eye. Follow the 20-20-20 rule: look away from your screen every 20 minutes for at least 20 seconds at something 20 feet away.
Another good way to sooth your eyes is by apply a warm compress.
If you have meibomian gland dysfunction, a warm compress can help open up clogged glands, yet a warm wash cloth hasn’t been shown to be all that effective. Some companies like Bruder and Tranquileyes sell products that are safe and stay at the right temperature for the right amount of time. Also, it’s important to clean debris from your lashes with baby shampoo and warm water or with a special lid cleanser.
6. Maintain Regular Visits with Your Optometrist
Your Optometrist will assess your individual eye health and discuss the best options for protecting your eyes year-round. The Alberta Association of Optometrists recommends that adults have an eye exam every one to two years, and at least annually for those over 65 depending on the presence of eye disease. Children should have their first eye exam at six months, again at age three, and every year while they are in school.
Comprehensive eye exams with a doctor of optometry can also reveal insight about your overall health. These visits not only allow an optometrist to detect eye diseases, but also uncover serious health conditions which often have early warning signs present in the eye.
For example, optometrists often identify nevi (similar to skin moles or freckles) in the pigmented layer at the back of the eye. If exposed to UV rays over a lifetime, these can develop into a rare form of cancer called choroidal melanoma, which can be deadly if not treated. Also, as mentioned earlier, the eyelid area is one of the areas of the body where skin cancer is first diagnosed. The most common form is invasive lesions called basal cell carcinomas that grow deep into the surrounding tissue.
Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned about the eyes is this: good vision and good eye health are often unrelated. You may have 20/20 vision but you may also have risk factors for UV related eye disease. For this reason, it’s important to remember eye protection year-round.
Book your appointment today to get your comprehensive eye exam done or to buy a pair of designer UV-blocking Sunglasses for this winters fun in the snow.