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As the Snow Falls….

Well, it seems that winter may officially have arrived here in Denver. Today is a cold, dreary, 1/3 rain, 1.3 sleet, 1/3 snow kinda day. Saturday of course, this never happens on Monday, right? As I sit in my home contemplating any activity to occupy my two children, I pick up that faint familiar smell of something…..burning….

Ah yes, the inaugural furnace fire-up. The burning of the all the dust, animal hair and debris that has collected and settled in the ducts through the summer and fall. With the burning smell comes the realization that it also feels like my eyes are burning too. As someone who suffers from dry eye, I can tell you that heat is not my friend, especially forced heat through a ducted furnace system. If you have even the mildest symptoms of dry eye, dry winter air along with forced air heat can significantly exacerbate the condition. If you have severe dry eye, this is not new to you. Here are some ideas to help improve your comfort if you are struggling.

1) Rather than having your programmable thermostat set to ‘auto’ (leaving only a small window of degrees at which neither the air conditioning nor heat is running) consider ¬†waiting until the first cold day to manually change it to ‘heat’ after being on ‘cool’ for the summer. Not only will this likely save you money ¬†in the fall when the weather fluctuates dramatically wreaking havoc on your HVAC regulation system, it will also serve as a reminder to change your filters, consider having your ducts cleaned and maybe even a furnace tune up before you set the beast in motion. Doing so will reduce the number of foreign objects in your air and increase ocular comfort.

2) Consider adding a ‘whole-house humidifier’ to your system. While these rarely can get the humidity above 35%, it still makes a valiant effort in reducing dryness. These humidifiers are mounted to your furnace and are connected to your water supply so you don’t have to worry about the hassle of constantly refilling stand alone humidifiers. However, don’t neglect the filter in your humidifier as it can harbor mold and other fun critters. Be sure to discuss routine maintenance with your HVAC service provider. Also, keep in mind that is never a good idea to install a whole-house humidifier on a furnace installed in your attic. In many states, the winter months are too cold and the attics are not well insulated so the water supply can freeze and cause serious (picture water leaking from a sagging ceiling above your bed) damage.

3) Consider supplementing your whole-house humidifier with a stand alone humidifier in the rooms you use most, often the living room and the bedroom. I am often asked why a humidifier in the bedroom is useful if your eyes are closed. Good question. Answer: Your eyes will seek moisture from not only your tears but also from the back surface of your eyelid while you sleep. The more hydrated your ocular tissues are the more moisture your eyes will have access too. Moreover, many of us do not sleep with our eyes completely shut. In these situations, the ocular surface is essentially desiccating while you sleep resulting in severe morning symptoms.

4) Consider a radiator in the room you spend the most amount of time in. Some of the symptoms that you experience in the winter months are due to movement of air across the ocular surface. Forced air heat uses a powerful fan system to blow air through your house creating a draft that is designed to keep the air temperature consistent. This draft can cause premature evaporation of your tears. With a radiator, there is no air movement.

5) Make sure you are using appropriate tear supplementation and dry eye treatment. While this entry is designed to specifically address the impact of the heating system on your eyes, the symptoms will be worse if you have neglected care and treatment for your dry eye. Not all artificial tears are the same. Not all dry eye medications are the same. NOT ALL DRY EYE IS THE SAME. There are a plethora of causes and in order for treatment to be effective, your personal dry eye cause must be identified and treated specifically.

6) Consider making adjustments to other factors that may be exacerbating your dry eye, i.e. makeup brand or contact lens brand. Consulting with your optometrist is essential when your contact lenses are not providing the comfort you desire. If you don’t tell us, how could we know? If you do tell us and we ignore you (or don’t suggest an improvement/treatment) find another eye doctor, period. Many optometrists can also offer suggestions about makeup brands that do not irritate the eye.

7) Well, this last suggestion is partially a joke but unfortunately has been a reality for some patients I have known – move to a climate there is more humid and does not require a season of heat, Louisiana and Florida come to mind. Really, if all else fails, this is a viable option.

This entry barely brushes the surface of the subject of dry eye. More has been address previously and there will undoubtedly be more in the future. In the meantime, embrace the snow, get to the mountains and enjoy the powder!