Can a Warm Compress Relieve Dry Eye?

Millions of people grapple with dry eye—an itchy, burning, and painful condition that happens when the eye doesn’t stay lubricated enough. Dry eye is a chronic condition, but many people experience flare-ups caused by too much time on a screen, dry air, or other environmental factors.

If you're looking for a way to quickly relieve the itchiness and burning, a warm compress for dry eyes can help.

Warm compresses relax the eye, reduce muscle spasms, and encourage the production of meibum, the oil that combines with water to make tears. This makes warm compresses a quick, easy, and effective—although temporary—treatment for dry eyes.

This article reviews how to treat the symptoms of dry eyes using a warm compress.

Woman with warm eye compress


John Slater / Getty Images

What Is a Warm Compress? 

A warm compress for dry eyes is a moist towel that is placed on the eyes. The towel expels heat for five to 10 minutes. Although you can also use a warm compress that is dry, like a heating pad, the added moisture from a wet towel can be particularly soothing for dry eye.

How Do Warm Compresses Help Dry Eye?

Warm compresses provide relief in four different ways. All of these are nearly instant effects, so using a warm compress for dry eyes is a good treatment option when you need immediate relief. Within five to 10 minutes of using a warm compress, you should feel much better.

Here’s what a warm compress does:

  • Hydrates the eye: When you use a moist cloth, your eyes receive hydration from the steam and water within the cloth. Tears are mostly water, so this extra hydration can help boost your tear function and soothe your eyes.
  • Prevents natural oils from clogging: One cause of dry eye is tears that are not particularly effective at lubricating the eye. This can happen when tears don’t have enough meibum (a fat-rich compound produced by oil-producing glands in the eyelid. Using a warm compress helps these glands unclog, promoting healthier, more effective tears.
  • Relieves muscle spasms: When dry eye is severe, it can lead to eye twitching. Using a warm compress to relax muscles around the eye can reduce twitching.
  • Relieves pain: For many people, a warm compress is soothing. It also helps relieve pain by encouraging blood flow and relaxing muscles. This is important with dry eye, since rubbing at your eyes can make symptoms worse.

How to Make a Warm Compress for Eyes 

Making an eye compress for dry eyes is simple. You’ll need a bowl, a washcloth or dish towel, a zip-close bag if you have one, and five to 10 minutes of time to sit with your eyes covered.

The most effective way to make a warm compress for dry eyes is using a wet cloth. There are two ways to do this:

  • Fill a bowl with water that is very warm to the touch but not so hot that it’s uncomfortable. 
  • Submerge a towel in the water until it is saturated.
  • Squeeze out excess water, then fold the towel into thirds or a size that fits comfortably on your eyes.

Alternatively:

  • Wet two wash cloths or towels with cool water.
  • Place one in a zip-close bag, but leave the bag open.
  • Microwave the bagged washcloth on high for two minutes.
  • Carefully seal the bag—it will be hot.
  • Wrap the second cloth around the bag.

Once you have your compress, lay with your head back and place the towel on your eyes for five to 10 minutes or until it no longer feels warm.

Eye-friendly compresses

There are a few safety tips to consider while making an eye compress:

  • Create a warm compress—not one that is too hot to touch.
  • Use only water, no chemicals or soaps. If you use eye drops to treat dry eye, talk to your healthcare provider about whether to apply them before or after using a compress.
  • Use a clean towel, water, and bowl each time.
  • Only leave the compress on for five to 10 minutes. Too much time can cause more irritation.

Summary

Warm compresses can offer temporary relief from dry eye symptoms such as itchiness, burning, twitching, and spasms. Just be sure to use a clean towel or washcloth and avoid any chemicals and soap when preparing your compress. This helps prevent infection or irritating the eyes further.

A Word From Verywell 

Dry eyes can be painful and frustrating. When you need quick relief, making a warm compress at home can help soothe your eyes. Although it’s good to control your symptoms, remember to talk to your healthcare about more proactive treatments for dry eye, including eye drops. Although dry eye is common and chronic, there are treatments that work.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How often should you do warm compresses for dry eye?

    It’s safe to use a warm compress for dry eye as often as you have symptoms. However, it’s also important to talk to your healthcare provider about preventative care to help reduce the amount of times that you feel a dry, itchy, or burning sensation. Treatments like eye drops or tear duct plugs can help reduce how often you need a warm compress.

  • How long should you leave a warm compress on your eye?

    You should leave a warm compress on your eye for five to 10 minutes. The compress should never be too hot, and after five to 10 minutes it will likely have cooled to a room temperature. That’s when you should remove it from your eyes.

  • What is better for dry eyes: cold or warm compress?

    Although cool can be soothing, a warm compress is better for dry eyes. The warmth helps promote the production of meibum, an oil that helps your tears keep your eyes lubricated.

  • Can I use a heating pad as a warm compress?

    Yes, you can use a warm (not hot) heating pad as a warm compress. However, it’s more effective for dry eye to use a warm compress that is moist as well. That’s why a heated washcloth or one dipped in warm water is the best warm compress for soothing dry eye.

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4 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.
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  2. Optometrists Network. Can warm compresses help dry eyes? Updated December 13, 2020.

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