Dry, Itchy and Watery Eyes in the Winter

Q. My eyes seem to become dry, itchy and watery in the winter. I don't have these issues in the summer. What is causing this seasonal change and how can I ease the symptoms?

A. Winter is upon us and thus, we must adjust to the new dryer atmosphere that has little to no humidity in the air. This seasonal change brings with it dry, tight skin but dry eyes can be equally or even more uncomfortable, often described as burning, itching, sandy or gritty. The lack of humidity in the atmosphere, having the heat on and the windows closed and spending time outside on windy winter days all have a drying effect on the eyes.

Ironically, some patients experience excessive eye watering in the winter months which is another symptom of dry eye. As the layers of the tear film become altered, the ocular surface becomes irritated and inflamed which causes reflex tearing. Reflex tears are a different consistency and quality than the normal tears that protect the cornea.They are unable to adhere to the corneal surface and thus tend to flood the eye instead of protect and lubricate it; merely having an excessive amount of reflex tears does not improve the dry condition of the eyes.

Lubricating drops can help ease the symptoms brought on by dry eyes by supplementing the natural tear layer and preventing the tears from evaporating so quickly. For moderate to severe dry eye, gels and ointments are formulated to provide extra protection with a gel-like bandage over the cornea. Because of their increased viscosity, these products can cause temporarily blurred vision and are thus ideal for use at bedtime.

Red eyes can be another symptom of dryness, but it is best to avoid decongestant drops as a tolerance to the eye-whitening effect of these drops can develop and can even worsen symptoms in the long run. Be aware that decongestant drops can mask a potentially serious underlying problem so consult with your optometrist who can identify the cause of your red, dry eyes and suggest the lubricating drop that is right for you.

Dr. Kristyn Pozzer


Millcroft Shopping Centre
2080 Appleby Line, Unit E6
Burlington, Ontario, L7L6M6
Tel: (905) 319-1066