The physical environment can worsen Dry Eye and Blepharitis symptoms. Let's look at how different climates can wreck havoc on your eyes, and what you can do about it.
In cold climates, humidity is often very low. This is because there is less water that evaporates into the atmosphere. Humidity is further reduced if you live far away from the ocean. This lack of water vapour means your eyes have to work harder to produce tears for adequate lubrication.
When eyes are inflamed and dry, they struggle to produce healthy tears regardless. Asking for MORE tears in a colder climate will only compound problems. This results in poor quality 'watery' tears, leading the eyes to dry out faster.
One study found that cold weather causes the Meibum (oil that lubricates the eye) to become thicker. It doesn't even have to be freezing for this effect to take place.
Researchers found that 30°C was the cut off point. As temperatures dropped below 30°C, the Meibum began to solidify and clog up the glands. This effect is amplified the more temperatures drop.
A climates less than 30 degrees could worsen dry eye symptoms.
Combine this with the drying effects of indoor heaters and airconditioning. Our poor eyes take a beating!
Time to book that trip to the Bahamas, ey?
How To Beat The Cold
Install a humidifier for indoors. Don't want to fork out for a humidifier? Place plants or plates of bowls indoors where it's too dry.
Keep eyes warm and protected - invest in some good wrap around sunglasses for outdoors.
Use a fragrance-free, hypo-allergic moisturiser around your face and eyes
Wear hoodies and hats. Even if it's not freezing, it's important to protect your eyes from cooler temperatures.
The Heat & Sun Exposure
Hold up - hot weather can cause dry eyes as well?! Eyes are a little like Goldilocks - you need the climate to be just right.
A recent study found summer was the worse time of the year for dry eye sufferers.
The most obvious culprit is dehydration. Dehydration can cause glands to stop producing enough tears to lubricate the eye. Without adequate lubrication, irritation and inflammation can occur. Dry eyes ensues.
Another direct effect of the heat is UV damage. This UV damage can be acute, such as when staring at an eclipse without protection. Or chronic, long-standing UV exposure. Aside from the rays directly entering the eye, tears also absorb UV rays. This can effect your cornea, lens and retina. Irreversible damage to these structures can cause dry eye syndrome.
Heat evaporates the tear film faster, meaning your eyes have to work harder to produce tears.
Escaping the heat in a nice air-conditioned place won't help either. The drying effects of the AC mean your eyes are still working just as hard to produce healthy tears.
We can't win, can we?!
How To Beat The Heat
Stay hydrated - in Summer it's advised to drink 2L of water a day - or 8 glasses
Get that humidifier for all year round!
Use those wrap around sunglasses when outdoors
Avoid sun exposure from 10am til 2pm - keep beach sessions for early morning/late afternoon where possible.
Visit an eye doctor for early detection if UV-induced damage is suspected
High altitude places can pose the triple-threat to eyes. Cold, windy and up high means you will need to go out of your way to protect your eyes.
How does high altitude alone cause issues? Reduced moisture within the air makes eyes more vulnerable.
One study looked at soldiers stationed at high altitude.
Researchers found that at 3300m above sea level, 20% of soldiers developed dry eye syndrome.
This is compared to 9% of soldiers in the control group. They concluded that a high altitude environment significantly increases tear evaporation.
These findings are mirrored by another study that the risk of dry eye syndrome is 13% higher in cities of high altitude.
Enjoy hiking? Sudden altitude changes can cause dry eyes by disrupting the tear film.
High altitude places are also exposed to wind, which makes tears evaporate quicker, as well as blow particles into your eyes.
How To Beat The Altitude
Going hiking? Take some lubricating eye drops
Wear glasses or goggles when outside
Want to splash out? Look at getting some moisture chamber goggles. Your eyes will love it.
Living in cities with high levels of air pollution increases dry eye issues. The cities most affected are those with high levels of smoke, dust and pollution combined with a high atmospheric pressure.
A recent study looked at 600,000 US Veterans treated for Dry Eye syndrome across the US. Researchers found that those living in Chicago or New York were 3-4x more likely to suffer from dry eye syndrome, compared to those living in an area of lower pollution.
Big cities with high pollution levels are a risk factor for developing dry eye syndrome.
Doctors still aren't sure about the mechanism behind air pollution and eye health, but there appears to be a strong connection. .
It looks like the lungs aren't the only organ effected by dirty air.
How To Beat The Pollution
Wear wrap around glasses
Limit contact lens use when exposed to pollution
Wear protective masks for the face
Don't rub your eyes!
It's important to recognise all environmental factors when treating Dry Eye syndrome and Blepharitis. Excessive heat, cold, high altitude and pollution can put eyes under significant strain.
Minimising exposure to these elements is recommended. Investing in eye-wear protection, moisturiser and humidifiers could see improvements in symptoms.
Addressing environmental factors might be the missing piece to solving your dry eye puzzle.