Health Library ~ Family Medicine in Mullica Hill, NJ

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Winter Eye Care

Winter often brings with it a variety of health concerns. Some people wonder how they are going to shed the weight they gained from stuffing themselves with irresistible holiday treats. Others worry about older loved ones slipping and falling on ice and snow or keeping young ones bundled up to ward off frostbite. With so much on everyone’s minds, it is not surprising that many neglect to take care of their eyes during winter. Understanding how winter’s changes create new hazards for the eyes enables people to take precautions that will preserve their vision for many seasons to come.

"As the seasons change, so do the health risks that surround us," points out Craig M. Wax, D.O., an osteopathic family physician from Mullica Hill, NJ. "Many times, we don’t realize that some of the changes that accompany winter pose hazards to our eyes."

A number of people, especially skiers, snowmobilers, and other snow lovers look forward to winter each year. For them, it means swishing down the slopes or speeding through the snow. "What winter outdoor enthusiasts don’t realize is that they spend extended periods of time in intense reflected sunlight," explains Dr. Wax. "Overexposure to the winter sun’s powerful ultraviolet (UV) rays without proper eye protection can temporarily harm the eyes or even cause photokeratitis, a condition comparable to a sunburn except sensitive tissues of the eyeball are the ones receiving the burn." Although photokeratitis may heal with time, the best way to preserve your vision is to avoid excess UV ray exposure, adds Dr. Wax.

Appropriate protection should also be worn when shoveling snow, putting up or taking down holiday decorations or going for a walk. "Since people associate winter with gray skies, sunglasses are often left at home," notes Dr. Wax, "However, the sun may come out unexpectedly, and they won’t have anything to protect their eyes."

Sunglasses that block 85 to 90 percent of visible light can safely protect the eyes in all sunny weather conditions. Another option is wearing ski goggles which also cover the eyes as well as the surrounding skin. "Ski goggles are great for snowmobilers, as well as downhill and cross country skiers since they block harmful sunlight while preventing debris and snow from blowing into the eyes," notes Dr. Wax.

The sun is not winter’s only eye hazard. Its cool winds and drier air can irritate the eyes while outdoors. "Winter’s harsh weather can make it the furthest thing from a wonderland when you’re eyes are consistently dry and irritated, especially for those who wear contact lenses," asserts Dr. Wax.

Dry eyes can be a problem indoors too. Indoor heat used during winter months tends to rid the air of moisture which can dry out and irritate eyes. "Although most cases are mild, irritation and dryness can be extremely uncomfortable causing a person to excessively rub their eyes further irritating and sometimes scratching them," says Dr. Wax. "However, there are ways to relieve discomfort."

Using eye drops, such as artificial tears which can be purchased at your local drug store, a few times a day often relieves dry and irritated eyes. Placing humidifiers throughout the house to increase indoor levels of humidity also provides relief.

"These simple adjustments will help protect your eyes all winter long," contends Dr. Wax, "but we must remember that the best way to preserve our vision is to take good care of our eyes no matter what season it is or what we are doing."

"Simple household tasks such as painting, using chemical cleaners, working on an engine or cutting wood expose our eyes to liquid chemicals that can burn or flying particles that can scratch and even puncture an eye," warns Dr. Wax. "Proper protection must be worn to prevent injury."

If an accident does occur, seeking proper treatment is crucial to preventing permanent damage. When a foreign body is embedded in the eye:
* Never rub or press on the eye. Attempt to remove it by leaning over a basin and gently flushing the eye with luke warm water. This method is most successful in removing smaller particles, such as dirt or sawdust from the eye.
* Seek medical attention if you cannot flush out the foreign body at home or the eye has been scratched.
* If medical assistance is needed, cover both eyes when waiting for help. The unaffected eye must be covered to prevent movement of the affected eye. If the object is small, use an eye patch or sterile dressing. If the object is large, cover the injured eye with a small paper cup taped in place and the other eye with a patch or sterile dressing.

When an eye has been exposed to dangerous chemicals:
* Immediately flush the eye with lukewarm water for 15 to 30 minutes.
* Call for emergency help (you can also call your local poison control center for more detailed instructions).
*Cover both eyes with sterile dressings, and keep them covered until help arrives.

"While these are safe ways to treat an injured eye, prevention is the key, allowing you to look forward to next winter." stresses Dr. Wax.

Craig M. Wax, DO, LLC of Mullica Hill, NJ provides information on health, nutrition, family medicine, preventive medicine, wellness, natural treatments, alternative medicine, integrative medicine, osteopathic medicine and just plain common sense.
Craig M. Wax, D.O., L.L.C. © 2014 ~ All Rights Reserved