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This time of year things get really hectic. I always find myself hunting online for activities, shopping online for gifts, and looking through photos more often than usual. You know the most frustrating part? The burning and watering from my eyes! They feel so hot when in actuality they are simply dry. In the eye doctors office, this is the typical time for these complaints to present. Because of my experience working in the eye doctor’s office, I know the importance of adding more artificial tears to my already tearing eyes. Why add more water to my watery eyes, you may ask?

Woman working on her computer early hours of the morning.
A woman and her red, teary, irritated eye without make-up

With the colder weather comes forced-air heat and with the heat comes low humidity. How does this cause eyes to burn and water? Typically the moisture level that coats the front of the eye to keep vision clear has a nice oil layer on top and a water layer underneath. Next there is a mucous layer to help keep this tear film nice and smooth for clear vision. With the increased screen-time most of us have decreased oil layer resulting in the evaporating water layer. This is the reason for all the burning or sandy-feeling, which in turn causes tearing to happen. It would seem that these extra tears are solving the problem, right?

Those tears are truly no help at all. These emergency tears are of high salinity, which cause quick relief, but more irritation in the long term. They are actually washing out all the oil and mucous layers that protect the surface of your eyes. In this situation, we need to add thicker artificial tears, specifically ones that include a nice oil layer. There are many brands available and many times your eye doctor’s office will have either samples or coupons. Another option is to try and boost the healthy oils in your own tear film. How does one accomplish this, you may ask?

Normal eye with good tear film and reflection
Hot, wet compress resting over eyes as man relaxes in a chair

There are three different ways to improve your oil gland function to help your eyes:

  1. Hot compresses twice daily. Using a clean wash cloth, run hot water and soak the washcloth. Squeeze out the excess and then place that wet towel over your closed eyes. Allow the heat to dissipate and then repeat one more time. Next wash gently along the lash line and perhaps even do a very gentle massage on the eyelid to help those oil gland secrete some oils.

  2. Take good quality fish oil or flax seed oil supplements. The Omega 3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation and increase regulation of the oil glands function. They also have some blood thinning properties, so clear this with your doctor first.

  3. Blink really well. Not that quick eyelid flutter, but a solid eyelids-pressing-together-for-2-3-seconds kind of blink. Those will stimulate the release of the oils from the oil gland. Try to do this several times a day, perhaps even hourly if you work on the computer and not outside.

Dry eye syndrome while frustrating, may also be made worse by the poor oil layer. If you have tried all of these techniques, try reading here for more info from the AAO on dry eye management. Don’t wait until you have constant tearing and dry irritated skin around the eyes to call your doctor. Your eyes work hard and sometimes they just need a little extra care. For more info about red eyes and how this can be dry eye, read here.