A quick look in the mirror might reveal that cooler temperatures and bare trees aren’t the only signs winter has arrived. Though beautiful in many ways, the season can also be quite harsh and irritate your eyes, leaving you looking (and even feeling) less than your best. Restoring your baby blues, greens or browns will not only soothe them but help them look clearer, brighter and more alert. You can’t control the elements that cause the following winter eye issues, but you can take steps to protect and comfort the windows to your soul.
Winter’s low humidity and high winds can speed up the evaporation of tears that would otherwise keep your eyes well-lubricated. And if you’re blinking less than usual—as is often the case when you’re concentrating hard, like you might be when completing an end-of-the-year report—your eyes have less opportunity to be replenished. The momentary satisfaction that comes with rubbing dry eyes can irritate the delicate skin around them (never mind mess up your make-up) and exacerbate stinging, burning and itching.
The Fix: As a first line of defense, try giving your eyes a rest from anything that you’ve been staring at for a long period of time—computer, mobile phones and other electronic devices, in particular. Artificial tears, or eye drops, can also offer immediate, temporary relief. If used regularly, they can help maintain or even assist in restoring moisture levels. If you find that you’re using drops frequently, opt for ones that are preservative-free (they come in single-use packets). Omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like salmon, walnuts and flaxseed oil can help hydrate your eyes from the inside, so be sure they’re a part of your daily diet. Also try using a humidifier to increase the moisture level in the air around you.
It may sound counterintuitive, but watery eyes can be a symptom of dry eyes, which periodically produce excess tears to counteract irritation. When that’s not the case, whipping winds are usually to blame. And though you may not think of winter as an allergy season, increased time spent at home can expose you to more indoor allergens like mold, dander and dust. Histamine, the protein released by your body during an allergic reaction, can cause the eyes to water just as it causes a nose to run.
The Fix: Protect yourself on blustery days by wearing wraparound sunglasses when you step outdoors. Keep your allergy-fighting efforts up, even if winter’s not your peak season. Practice avoidance—for example, limit pets to one area of your home—and keep your surroundings clean and tidy. Focus on the bedroom, since you spend consecutive hours there when you sleep: use mattress covers, opt for an area rug rather than full-coverage carpet and consider a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) air filter. Taking prescribed allergy medication, even if you otherwise feel fine, may also help reduce watering.
Redness is caused by dilated and swollen blood vessels on the surface of the white portion of the eye (called the sclera). While there are many possible reasons for this inflammation, the usual suspects—indoor allergens, dry air and wind—are typically to blame. Lack of sleep and improper care of contacts can also be at the root of this problem—both are issues that may pop up more as your winter schedule gets more crowded with commitments and time is short.
The Fix: Using a humidifier and cleaning house may help this issue, too. But so might taking a nap. Eyes naturally regenerate essential moisture when lids are closed, which can reduce irritation. (If you have allergies, wash around your outer eye with a gentle soap first, as irritants can get caught between your lids and eyes.) Acupuncture may also help bring down inflammation. If you wear contacts, give eyes a rest by removing your lenses and fully disinfecting them regularly (you may even want to wear your glasses instead some days). Steer clear of cigarette smoke, too.