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Winter is a lovely time to curl up on the sofa with a book and hot drink. Those of you who are more active may be out on the ski slopes, or be dreaming of this to come soon. Some of us will be working or studying and trying to meet urgent deadlines, whether it be a work-related project, essay, or examination.

Whatever you are doing, it is important to be aware of the winter eye problems, as winter can be a harsh time. Your skin suffers just as your eyes do, getting dry and irritated, and you yearn for freedom of skin in sunshine again.

You may recognise some of these common eye and skin problems which appear in the winter:

  • Dry eye and general eye irritation indoors
  • Dry, cracked lips, hands, and brittle nails
  • Excessive tearing outside in the cold
  • Eye sensitivity to the winter sun
  • Eyelid corners soreness with winter sports
  • Painful eye snow blindness
  • Skin damage in the winter sun
  • Vitamin D deficiency affects eye and skin immunity.

However, with some sensible action and self-care, any eye conditions can be avoided and you can enjoy healthy, nourished skin.

Dry Eyes and Ocular Irritation Indoors

Excessive reading or screen use with central heating, long hours indoors, exacerbates blepharitis and dry eyes.  Sometimes the eyes are so dry that they water and fill with tears, blurring your vision.

You want to try and keep the humidity levels above 55% and drink lots of water and regularly rest your eyes.

If you are over 60 years, it is not uncommon to get blurry vision in the evenings from dry eyes and you can get relief from both ache and blurred vision by cleaning your eyes with a micellar eye cleaning solution and putting in preservative-free lubricating drops.

In order to keep your blepharitis and eyelid irritation at bay, you should do a daily morning warm compress with warm tap water and cotton wool make-up removal pads as well as formally cleansing the face and eyelids with a micellar solution or milk cleanser. There is no need to put moisturising creams directly on your eyelids.

Eye allergy during the winter months is rare but can occur, as well as puffy eyes, not just from too much salty foods and dehydration, but feather pillows and dust indoors.

Dry skin, cracked lips, hands, and brittle nails

If you spend your time in a dry atmosphere, your skin will dry out. This most readily affects your face and hands but also can affect your arms and fronts of legs where clothes dry your skin more. We know how cracked our fingernails get as it’s made worse by frequent gel use.

Skin allergy is more common in winter from washing powders and fabric softeners giving you constantly itchy, patchy red skin. The combination of dry skin and contact dermatitis is very unpleasant. You can avoid this by seeing a dermatologist. They can advise you if it is an irritation contact dermatitis or if it is indeed an allergic contact dermatitis and start a topical potent steroid (by prescription) which is extremely helpful for symptoms. Patch testing for contact allergies may be helpful too.

Excessive eye tearing outside in the cold

Your eyes often stream outside in the cold, especially in windy weather. This is caused by a combination of sensitive ocular surface and reflex eye tearing. It is worsened if your tear ducts are also narrow and will not drain your tears efficiently. As you get older our tear ducts get narrower so drain tears less efficiently. This is convenient as you also produce fewer tears with age, so usually the tears to drainage is in balance. The balance between tears produced and tears drained can tilt if there is more narrowing of the tear duct, then you experience more rapidly watering eyes.

Eye sensitivity to the winter sun

In the winter months the sun is much lower in the sky, hence the light rays come towards your eyes more horizontally. This can give you glare and make your eyes light sensitive. Did you know that even on a cloudy day the light can be quite bright? This is because the clouds act as a mirror and reflect the light back and forth. This is much worse in winter sports where both the snow and the cloud level can reflect the light up and down. It is not unusual to want to wear sunglasses or reactive prescription glasses in order to avoid eye glare in winter.

Skin damage in the winter sun

The skin is also affected by horizontal winter light, particularly for your face and around your eyes. It is important to be mindful that during the winter the solar zenith angle is longer. As the sun sits lower in the sky, it’s rays have a longer distance to travel through more cloud cover to go through. This soft cloud blanket does prevent some of the shorter UVB sun rays and means that the ratio of UVA to UVB is higher. This, in turn, means that you must use a broadband spectrum sunscreen containing UVA cover in winter and there are a number of very good products that can help. UVA is mainly linked to long term skin ageing and contributes to some skin cancers. Meaning, in winter you can still get permanent wrinkles!

Eyelid corners soreness with winter sports

Our eyes water more in the cold, which is usually a reactive watering. If you are outside for many hours in bright sun and wind, the delicate outer corners of your eyelids can get sore and cracked. Advice: wear protective eyewear with wrap around sunglasses or goggles when in winter sun especially when doing winter sports such as skiing or snowboarding.

Painful eye “snow blindness” 

Snow is one of the delights of winter and tramping through parks or fields, up hills or even going out in the garden in snow can expose your eyes to much higher levels of reflected sunlight and hence UVA and UVB especially on a cloudless day. If your eyes are exposed to many hours of unprotected snow light they can develop a temporary “snow blindness” which is a painful corneal (outermost cells of the front of the eye) damage. This can be acutely painful and occurs a few hours after coming in from the winter sun, with symptoms of light sensitivity, profuse eye-watering, redness and just wanting to shut your eyes. It is self-recovering but you may need to see an urgent eye doctor at Clinica London if this occurs and is still painful after 12 hours, to ensure it is not an infection or scratch.

Vitamin D deficiency affects eye and skin immunity

In winter we have lower levels of Vitamin D.  Since only a few foods contain this fat-soluble vitamin, we must get sunlight in order for its UV to stimulate our skin to manufacture this important vitamin naturally. In winter usually, only parts of your face and possibly your hands are exposed for short periods of time to the sun, therefore it is also advisable to take vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D is important for skin, eyes, lungs and bones and all cells. Vitamin D has a well-established calcium absorption role for bone health and acts as a protective anti-inflammatory and regulatory substance giving immune protection to winter colds and eye conjunctivitis, and also helps in skin repair and prevents early skin ageing.

Despite all the gloomy warnings above, you can have comfortable healthy eyes and skin in winter by cleaning and lubricating your eyes and looking after your skin by protecting it against harsh light and weather. Take Vitamin D food supplements.

Wishing you a sparkly, bright and eye-skin safe winter, from The Clinica London Team.

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