Does Cold Weather Cause Dry Eye Syndrome?

Author: Premier Eye Associates

As the winter months approach and the temperature drops, preparations are being made to adjust for the changes that this weather will bring. Among those changes are changes to the eyes and vision. With cold temperatures, certain conditions such as dry eye syndrome and allergic conjunctivitis are worsened. If there is snow with the cold, the snow creates a unique challenge for vision as well.


How Temperature Affects the Body

Environmental temperature can directly affect the body. The body remains at the same temperature internally due to a process called homeostasis.

In this process, natural changes are made to account for the cold air around the body including constricting blood vessels in extremities, reducing heart rate, and, of course, shivering.

These changes affect all structures of the body, the eyes included.

However, the effects of these systemic adaptations will rarely cause any symptoms.


Dry Eye Syndrome and the Cold Temperature

While cold temperatures affect the entire body, there are certain changes that occur only in the eyes. The two most prominent are a decrease in the tear film and an increase in the sensitivity of the front of the eyes.

With the cold, the tear film can become unstable and evaporate quickly from the eyes.

As the tear film is lessened, the front of the eye becomes exposed to the air more frequently and will have heightened sensitivity.


Dry Eyes in Cold Weather

Dry eye syndrome can and does, occur in any and all temperatures, but it is frequently the worst in cold temperatures.

Since the cold air causes a reduction in the tear film and the body is conserving energy for warmth, the tear film is often insufficient and will lead to dryness.

A secondary cause of increased dryness is the drastic change between the cold outside and then going into a heated environment. The heater will dry the air even more and lead to more tear film instability.


Allergic Conjunctivitis in Cold Weather

Like dry eye syndrome, allergic conjunctivitis is a year-round condition that can be exacerbated by changes in cold weather.

With the increase in dry eye and corneal sensitivity, triggers that may not normally cause an allergic reaction can lead to mild to moderate symptoms.

Additionally, in the cold weather, more time is spent inside in potentially dusty environments and as central heat is used, dust that has settled will be put into the air.

This can increase the likelihood of a reaction within the eyes.


Vision in the Snow

Snow is an exciting part of any winter and may accompany the new lower temperatures.

If there is snowfall and accumulation, the snow will act as a reflector of UV light from the sun. The white snow does not absorb any UV energy but instead reflects it into the environment.

For this reason, when snow is on the ground and the sun is shining, it will often seem much brighter and more intense than usual.

It is essential to wear sunglasses, particularly polarized sunglasses, when outside in the snow. The increase in the light energy from the reflection can lead to damage if protection is not used.



Dr. Anthony Spina and the staff of Premier Eye Associates specialize in glasses, soft contact lenses, hard contact lenses, and medical eye exams. Call our eye doctor in Auburn, AL today at (334) 539-5391 or schedule an appointment online if you are interested in dry eye syndrome.  Our optometrist provides only the highest quality eye care services amongst eye doctors in the Auburn Alabama area.

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