Dry Eyes and COVID

If you have lived in Colorado for any amount of time, it is likely you have experienced how drying the winters here can be. Chapped lips. Dry hands. Watering eyes. If you are new to Colorado, or just traveling through, chances are you are still aware of the low humidity and drying nature of Colorado winters, the driest season of the year here.

In the optical field, we have seen a spike in cases of dry eyes. This is in addition to the normal spike we see in the winter. Consequently, we want to look at dry eyes specifically.

What are dry eyes?

There are several signs and symptoms that can be associated with dry eyes.

This includes:

  • pain in and around the eye
  • inflammation
  • sensitivity to light
  • eye discomfort
  • itching
  • gritty feeling
  • blurry vision
  • feeling of something in the eye

What causes dry eyes?

Additionally, there are several causes of dry eyes. Keep in mind a tear is not just water. It is also oils, mucus, and antibodies. This helps the eye keep infection at bay, spread oil/water, and lubricate. All of these items need to be in tears to provide the proper lubrication. These ingredients come from glands around your eyes. If you have dry eyes, for some reason your eyes are not producing the correct amount of these items. Sometimes these ingredients are off due to hormones (such as menopause), side effects of some drugs, disease, or physical issues with the eye’s anatomy.

Today, we want to focus on some outside environmental factors that can also cause irritation. We are looking at Colorado’s dry climate. As well as the increase in computer time (which decreases blinking drying out the eyes) due to changes in our culture due to COVID. Finally, we will also look at how mask wearing has created more dry eye issues.

Why is Colorado so dry?

As KOAA’s meteorologist explains Alex O’Brien explains there are two jet streams. The polar jet stream brining cold weather and the warmer subtropical brining warm weather. These streams follow the sun. As we move into winter, these streams move south resulting in dry cold air comes from the north. As the season change, the streams return north bringing warmer weather. Additionally, Colorado is land locked and high altitude. Two features that although can be beautiful, contribute to the dry air.

The bad news… January is typically our driest month. As a result, living in Colorado in the winter can be drying and we are heading into the driest month of the year.

Why does increase computer time cause dry eyes?

When concentrating, often times, it is easy to forget to blink. As our society relies more on technology, this issue is more common. Studies have shown that when staring at a screen, people blink about one-third as often as normal. In addition, specifically with computer work, many participants in these studies only blinked partially. These are two factors in dry eyes. Therefore it is important to follow the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minuets on a screen, you should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This can greatly reduce dry eyes and digital eye strain.

What are masks doing to my eyes?

In October of 2020, the University of Utah released findings that normal masks wears noted the most significant increase in the number of dry eye cases. As time continues, we will learn more about the correlation with PPE and dry eyes. For now, we are going to assume there is a correlation. According to AARP health, there are a few things that are showing helpful with the decrease of dry eyes in mask wearers. First of all, look for a mask that fits tightly to the nose. This may mean a malleable wire along the edges so that it can hug the nose tightly and decrease the air flow to escape and move towards the eyes. Goggles can also seal the eyes keeping the back flow of air from drying the eyes.

What is the solution?

Each and every patient is different. Every case of dry eye is different. A patient may do great with over-the-counter artificial tears. Others may need duct plugs and glasses. Some may need a mixture of blue light blocking lenses, computer or workspace lenses, artificial tears, and medications. If you suffer from dry eyes, it is only going to increase as the COVID precautions continue and our air becomes drier. Please contact us for an appointment today and we can help cure your dry eyes!