Dry Eyes in Winter

If you feel that you have dry eyes in winter more than other times of the year, you're not alone. Dry eyes in winter are often caused by windy conditions outside. Plus, the air gets drier as temperatures go down, causing the eyes and skin to lose moisture to evaporation. Dry eyes in winter are worsened by indoor heater use, which exposes the eyes to dry heat.

This article will review why dry eyes are worse in the winter and how to prevent and treat dry eye symptoms.

Ways to Prevent Dry Eyes in the Winter - Illustration by Theresa Chiechi

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Why Do I Have Dry Eyes in Winter?

Your eyes may feel drier in the winter because of that classic frigid mix of cold and wind. When the cold settles in and wind whips around you, there is usually lower humidity in the air. All of those factors can affect your eyes.

What About When I'm Inside?

When you are inside, you are probably using indoor heating. It is also possible that you are directly exposed to air vents that blast warm air on you in your home, workplace, or car.

The indoor and outdoor experiences you feel during the winter can lead your eyes to lose moisture, just as your skin does. This causes dry eye symptoms.

A 2015 study of veterans diagnosed with dry eye found that dry eye was more often found in the winter and spring. In another study, a phone interview of 738 patients with dry eye found that wind was the largest weather-associated irritant for dry eye symptoms, followed by sunshine, heat, and cold weather. Forty-seven percent of those taking part in the survey said that weather had a major impact on their dry eye symptoms.

Dry eye symptoms in the winter include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Burning or itchy eyes
  • Dryness
  • Eye fatigue
  • Lack of tears
  • Light sensitivity
  • Problems wearing contact lenses
  • Red eyes
  • Watery eyes. Ironically, your eyes may seem to produce more tears even if they feel dry. This is because your eyes are irritated and produce more watery tears.

Treating Dry Eyes In Winter

If you experience dry eyes in the winter but not as much the rest of the year, there are some home remedies you can use to help your symptoms. Here are a few ideas to treat your winter-related dry eye:

  • Use indoor humidifiers to provide more moisture to the air.
  • Try not to use fans, particularly at night, as these just create more wind to irritate your eyes.
  • Look around your home, workplace, or vehicle for other sources of heat or wind near the eyes. This could include car vents or hair dryers.
  • Use warm compresses over the eyes several times a day.
  • Look for over-the-counter artificial tears. Also called lubricating eye drops, these provide moisture to the eyes. Artificial tears often contain preservatives that can irritate the eyes. Preservative-free tears may not irritate the eyes but can be more expensive.
  • If your dry eye is particularly bothersome, try over-the-counter ointments. Ointments provide a thicker coating to the eye than tears; this may temporarily blur vision. You typically use them at night.
  • Keep your contact lenses clean if you wear them. Change your contacts as recommended by your doctor or the manufacturer, and only touch your contact lenses with clean hands. You might need to change your cleaning system from a multipurpose solution to a hydrogen peroxide-based cleaning system. Also, make sure you are rubbing your lenses clean as indicated in the directions. There are no such things as "no-rub solutions."
  • Avoid eye drops that focus on removing redness from your eye. When used chronically, they can actually make redness worse.

Preventing Dry Eyes In Winter

If you want to prevent dry eye symptoms in the winter, there are a few things you can do to keep your environment comfortable for your eyes.

  1. Try not to use heat when it is not needed. We know this may be hard to do during winter's coldest months. At a minimum, try not to sit or sleep right under those air vents for the heat.
  2. Avoid using a hairdryer for a prolonged time period.
  3. Lower your exposure to wind and smoke, both of which can irritate the eyes.
  4. Make sure to drink enough water. This may seem less important in the winter, but your body and eyes still need hydration year-round.
  5. Wear eye protection when you are outside, like sunglasses. There also are wrap-around sunglasses that provide even more protection to the eyes.
  6. Aim the air vents in your vehicle away from your face, so the air is not pointing directly toward your eyes.
  7. Consider using fish oil or flaxseed oil for omega-3 fatty acids. This may prevent or improve dry eye symptoms. Food sources for omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed and oily fish like salmon and tuna.
  8. Take a break from staring at screens. During winter's cold, it's easier to stay inside for work, school, or watch videos or other screen-based entertainment. The American Optometric Association recommends following the 20-20-20 rule, which is to look away from your screen every 20 minutes, staring for 20 seconds at something 20 feet away.

When to See a Doctor

If home remedies for dry eye don't help or you find yourself using artificial tears more than four to six times a day, you should see an eye doctor. Eye doctors can offer a range of treatments for your dry eye, including prescription eye drops and punctal plugs to preserve your natural tears. They can also help pinpoint what type of dry eye you have, including evaporative dry eye. This type of dry eye may feel particularly uncomfortable in the winter.

Your eye doctor also can confirm whether it is dry eye that is causing your symptoms or another eye problem, such as allergies or an underlying medical condition.

Share What Medications You're Taking

You also can talk to your eye doctor about whether certain medications you use are making dry eye symptoms worse. Allergy medicines such as antihistamines, as well as some anti-depressants and blood pressure drugs, can dry out the eyes.

Summary

Dry eyes are more common in the winter due to a mix of cold, windy weather. When you are inside, heat and lower humidity contribute to dry eyes. Avoiding or reducing wind and heat sources near the eyes can help improve or prevent dry eye symptoms. You can also use over-the-counter artificial tears to soothe the eyes. If your self-care does not improve your dry eye, set an appointment with an eye doctor to learn about more treatments.

A Word From Verywell

Dry eye symptoms can feel different throughout the year, depending on the weather. However, a few changes in your daily routine and home or work environment can go a long way toward preventing or improving your dry eye symptoms. If these changes still don't help your dry eye, see an eye doctor for further help and evaluation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are dry eyes worse in the winter?

    For many people, yes. This is because of more wind and cold exposure outdoors and low-humidity, heated air indoors.

  • Does drinking water help dry eyes?

    Yes. Water helps all of your body's organs, including the eyes. In addition, better hydration helps your eyes produce more tears, so your eyes are more comfortable.

  • What is a good vitamin for dry eyes?

    Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can help dry eyes in some people. Research has found some value from vitamins A, B12, and D for dry eye, but these findings are still emerging.

  • Can dry eye be seasonal?

    Yes. Winter appears to make dry eye symptoms worse for many people. Spring may also trigger dry eye symptoms because of allergens in the air, such as pollen.


Was this page helpful?
5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Optometric Association. Winter is coming: help patients combat dry eye.

  2. Kumar N, Feuer MS, Lanza NL, Galor AG. Seasonal variation in dry eye. Ophthalmology. 2015;122(8):1727-1729. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2015.02.013

  3. van Setten G, Labetoulle M, Baudouin C, Rolando M. Evidence of seasonality and effects of psychrometry in dry eye disease. Acta Ophthalmol. 2016;94(5):499-506. doi:10.1111/aos.12985

  4. University of Alabama in Birmingham. Cold weather woes and dry eye.

  5. Boyd K. What is dry eye? Symptoms, causes, and treatment.