Dry Eyes: Possible Weather Causes and Treatment

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Have you ever felt like your eyes are very dry or itchy, or like you’re not producing enough tears? Dry eye disease is a common but unpleasant condition that can affect your eyes and vision. This condition can be related to the weather, seasonal allergies, dry climates, high altitude, and other geographical factors.

If you’re wondering why your eyes are so dry and worry that dry eye syndrome may be the cause, keep reading to learn more about this condition.

Can weather cause dry eyes?

Dry eye disease, also known as dry eye syndrome or keratoconjunctivitis sicca, is a relatively common condition that happens when your eyes don’t produce enough tears to keep your eyes moist and well hydrated. You can also develop dry eyes if you produce poor-quality tears that are unstable and can’t hydrate your eyes properly.

Tears are essential to keep your eyes hydrated and healthy. Your lacrimal glands produce tears that consistently coat your eyes. Tears mostly contain water, but they also contain lipids (fatty acids) and mucus. A disruption in the production or composition of your tears can lead to dry eye disease.

The symptoms of dry eye syndrome can include:

  • Stinging, scratchy, or burning sensation in your eyes
  • Eye redness and swelling
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Discomfort while wearing contact lenses
  • Difficulty driving at night
  • Stringy mucus around your eyes
  • Blurred vision

Although it is a common condition, dry eyes can lead to health complications if left untreated for too long. Eye infections are one of the most common complications of dry eyes; your tears help protect the surface of your eye and keep it healthy. If your eye becomes too dry, it could also become more susceptible to pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses, which can lead to an infection.

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There are other factors that can affect the quantity or quality of your tears and lead to dry eyes, including:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Certain medications
  • Air travel
  • Smoking
  • Excessive screen time
  • Allergies

People can also experience symptoms of dry eye disease after laser eye surgery or other types of refractive corneal surgery. In most cases, these symptoms will subside on their own within a few weeks as your eyes recover from the procedure. If you’re experiencing dry eyes after laser surgery that don’t get better, be sure to contact your doctor for additional guidance.  

In rare cases, having dry eyes can damage your eyes, leading to more severe complications, such as:

  • Eye inflammation
  • Corneal abrasions
  • Corneal ulcers
  • Vision loss 

Dry eyes at night: Is it the weather?

Seasonal changes can certainly have an effect on dry eyes. It’s very common for weather-related dry eye symptoms to increase throughout the day and into the night. As the day goes by, the dry weather can cause inflammation and exacerbate the symptoms of dry eyes. In addition to dry weather, air pollution and smog can also cause eye problems. Research has found that dry eyes are more common during the spring and winter, and in dry, windy climates.

A woman with dry eyes covering her face

Can weather cause dry eyes in the morning?

Weather is more likely to cause dry eyes at night or later in the day, since the weather affects your eyes as the day goes on, causing increasing inflammation and dryness. However, it’s also possible for your dry eyes in the morning to be related to the weather.

Another possible cause for dry eyes in the morning is a condition called nocturnal lagophthalmos. This is when your eyelids are unable to close properly while you sleep, which can impair the tear film that covers your eyes. Nocturnal lagophthalmos can have different causes, including nerve injuries, head trauma, and temporary facial muscle paralysis or Bell’s palsy.

Dry eyes and allergies:  Is there a connection?

Some conditions can worsen both dry eyes and allergies. Air pollution has been associated with allergic conjunctivitis, allergic rhinitis, and asthma, among other allergic conditions, and it can also aggravate dry eye disease by increasing the inflammation in your eyes.

Some studies have shown that even small increases in air pollution can cause a big increase in cases of dry eye disease, and these cases are lower when there’s more moisture in the air.

Allergies and dry eyes are both common in spring, when high pollen and colder weather combine.

Additionally, allergy medications or antihistamines work by drying out mucus and mucous membranes. While this effect can be very helpful if you have nasal congestion due to allergies, it can also worsen your dry eyes.

How to prevent dry eyes

If your dry eye symptoms are caused by the weather, it’s important to keep your eyes protected from harsh environmental conditions. You can achieve this by wearing caps, hats, protective goggles, or sunglasses when you go outdoors

You should also try to divert air currents away from your face to protect your eyes. Keep the air conditioner or heating vents directed away from your face, especially if you’re sitting close by (e.g., if you’re in a car with the air conditioner on). 

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Excessive time in front of a screen can also cause or exacerbate dry eyes. You should try to limit your screen time, if possible, or take frequent breaks away from any screens during the day. You can also try wearing blue light-filtering glasses to reduce the effect that screens have on your eyes and sleeping schedule.

Treating dry eyes

Your dry eye symptoms could subside on their own once the dry months are over. If this is the case, you may only need to take preventive measures when the weather becomes dry.

However, there are also certain instances when you should consider going to the doctor. Some of the signs that it’s time to go to the doctor include:

  • You have had frequent eye infections in addition to dry eye symptoms.
  • Your symptoms persist throughout the year.
  • You experience constant migraines and/or blurred vision.
  • Your visual accuracy has decreased after your dry eye symptoms started.

Your doctor could refer you to a specialist depending on the severity of your symptoms and your personal history. They could also order some tests to check for hormonal imbalances, undiagnosed health problems, and vitamin deficiencies. Vitamin A is the most important vitamin for dry eyes, and if you have a deficiency, your doctor may prescribe a supplement or a diet rich in vitamin A. Foods that contain vitamin A include:

  • Liver
  • Liver oil
  • Fatty fish
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Squash
  • Leafy greens
  • Carrot
  • Mango
  • Cantaloupe

There isn’t a specific treatment for dry eyes; in most cases, your symptoms will improve by avoiding trigger factors and increasing or supplementing your tear production. Treatment for dry eyes can include:

  • Artificial tears
  • Eye ointments
  • Purposeful blinking (remembering to blink when you’re focused on something else)
  • Topical steroids
  • Tear duct plugs to help tears last longer in your eyes
  • Eye drops and glasses as remedies for dry eyes

Simple home remedies for dry eyes

Some simple home remedies for dry eyes can also be very helpful and relieve your symptoms. These home remedies include:

  • Use a humidifier for dry eyes. A humidifier is a small device that releases steam to increase the moisture in the environment around you. If you have dry eyes in the morning, you could try sleeping with a humidifier on to prevent excessive drying during the night.
  • Keep your contacts clean. If you have dry eyes, your eyes will be much more susceptible to an infection, and contacts can increase this risk even more. It’s always important to wear clean contacts and to wash them properly if you’re using reusable contacts. These hygiene measures become even more important if you have dry eyes. It may also be beneficial to wear your glasses instead of contact lenses for some time, at least until the symptoms go away.
  • Place warm compresses over your eyes. Warm compresses can help open up your tear ducts and relieve inflammation.
  • Stay hydrated. Your body needs to be hydrated to produce enough tears, and dehydration can dry out your mucous membranes, including the ones that protect your eyes. 
  • Remove your makeup. If you wear makeup and don’t remove it properly every day, it can block the glands located at the base of your eyelashes and worsen dry eyes. Prevent this by making sure you clean your face and remove all your makeup at the end of each day.
  • Wash your face. Bacteria can cause infections such as blepharitis, which can affect your eyelids and increase eye inflammation. Make sure you clean your eyelids with warm water and mild soap every night, even if you don’t wear makeup and/or haven’t been outdoors during the day.

Having dry eyes can be very uncomfortable, but fortunately, there are many simple things you can do to improve your symptoms. It’s important to visit your doctor to rule out any underlying issues, but in many cases, dry eyes are simply a consequence of the weather. Try methods such as applying artificial tears, protecting your eyes, and using a humidifier to keep your eyes healthy and comfortable.

January 10, 2023