Nebraska is setting records in below zero temperatures! Record lows that we haven’t seen in a while bring health concerns such as frostbite to ears, nose, cheeks, fingers, and toes and hypothermia. Bundling up and avoiding prolonged time outdoors helps your extremities, but did you know extremely cold temperatures can also be dangerous to your eyes?
You all have probably experienced it, that “cold snap” when you step outside and your eyes immediately tear. Tearing means the cold air or wind evaporated the thin layer of oil and aqueous called the tear film that protects the sensitive nerves of your cornea. Your eyes tear excessively to protect your fragile eye tissue.
On average, the eyes blink 15 – 20 times per minute, distributing the tears and keeping the surface of the eye moist helping to protect the cornea. Cold temperatures cause eye blood vessels to constrict and corneal and lid tissue to freeze or get frostbite. As a doctor in Winter Park, CO I treated many people for pain, blur, halos, and even vision loss due to corneal damage from cold tempatures, wind, and snow.
Protect your eyes from extreme cold outdoors and when skiing or snowboarding with the following tips.
1) Use eye drops 10 minutes before going outside such as Systane Complete. Keep a bottle next to your body and apply again if you are outdoors for a long period.
2) Blink more frequently when outdoors to help rewet your tissue and prevent frost build up on eyelashes.
3) Warm body temperature helps protect your eyes from the cold. In addition to overall exposure to the cold, reflections off snow can significantly increase the UV exposure and cause light sensitivity. Wear sunglasses or goggles that wrap or seal around your face to help keep warmth and protect from wind, cold, and UV rays.
Not all winter eye issues happen outdoors. Cold weather means turning up the heat or sitting in front of the fireplace which makes the air dry and can contribute to dry eyes. It also means more time binge-watching TV or movies for all ages or spending more time playing computerized games. Prolonged device use can cause dry eye and eye strain from posture and reduced blinking. Everyone in the family should take breaks from TV and digital devices (where you tend to blink less) and play games or try a new activity. I advise my patients to follow the 20/20/20 rule – for every 20 minutes watching, take a 20 second break, and look 20 feet away or out the window.
I recommend using a humidifier or diffuser in your home or office to help increase moisture in your air. Staying hydrated and drinking 64 oz of water a day is especially important for stabilizing your tear film and eye health. I’m a fan of the occasional hot chocolate too! Stay warm Nebraska!