Ophthalmology expert offers tips to help relieve seasonal dry eye

If your eyes feel like the Sahara desert or your vision seems blurrier than usual, don't panic. It may just be seasonal dry eye.

"The most common type of dry eye is evaporative dry, which is often worse in the wintertime," said Michelle D. Patel, M.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

"It is caused by inflammation on the eyelids (blepharitis), leading to a poor tear film and quicker evaporation of tears, the eyes' natural moisturizer. Winter can make it worse because the air is dry and heaters are on. Symptoms can include blurry and fluctuating vision, a gritty feeling like sand in your eyes, and even excess tearing."

Patel offers these tips to help relieve seasonal dry eye:
•Reduce reading or heavy computer use, which can worsen dry eye because you don't blink as often.
•Have humidifiers on in the house and office.
•Don't have the car heater blowing directly on your face.
•Take omega-3 as fish or flax seed oil (1000-1500 mg of DHA/EPA) to help improve the quality of the tear film.
•Use over-the-counter artificial tears or lubricant eye drops up to four times a day, but stay clear of "get the red out" drops.
•Contact lenses can make dry eye worse, so minimize contact lens use if possible.

Patel cautions that it can take 6 to 8 weeks to notice improvement, but if the symptoms last longer than that you should see a doctor to be sure nothing else is going on and to discuss alternative forms of treatment for dry eye.

"A key point is that all dry eye treatments take time to work," she said. "There aren't any quick fixes. Each intervention can take a few months to make a significant difference and often you need a combination of treatments for relief."

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