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Chilly winter can affect the eyes too

19 January, 2014

ISLAMABAD: Blurred vision, scratching and burning sensation and irritation in the eye - these are not minor irritants in your daily routine but might be the pointers to a condition called the dry-eye syndrome which plagues many people during an extreme winter.

According to doctors, even though a person's entire body might be covered up as a protection against the chilly winter winds, there is one part that is always exposed: the eyes.

The surface of the eye is covered with a thin layer of liquid known as the tear film, which is essential for its health. A dry-eye condition caused by cold winds evaporates the tears, which could partially affect vision and cause constant eye pain.

"Occurrence of dry-eye syndrome is very common during the winter season because of the cold, dry outdoor air and dry indoor heat," Sanjay Dhawan, director of ophthalmology at Fortis Hospital, said.

Dhawan said when there is insufficient lubrication in the eye, the conjunctiva (the white part of the eye) becomes much less moist than normal.

He said this causes severe pain, discomfort and inflammation of the conjunctiva and cornea of the eye, due to inadequate tear secretion.

It is a common problem faced by both men and women above 50.

"Sometimes it becomes severe as this abnormality may result in disruption of the ocular (eye) surface, causing difficulty in vision," Dhawan said.

The other symptoms of the eye problem include a persistent watery discharge and irritation if one is using contact lenses.

"If menopause occurs at an early age, then the chances of developing dry-eye syndrome during the winter gets increased even among middle-aged women," Dhawan said, adding that at an initial stage, it may seem like a minor irritation but can become potentially serious.

According to Kinshuk Biswas, opthalmologist at Gurgaon's Columbia Asia Hospital, the condition could also be a result of constant use of a computer.

"Dry-eye syndrome is caused by the low humidity factor during winter which leads to evaporation of the lubricant in the eyes. Another contributing factor for this condition is the use of a computer and continuously looking at the screen for long," Biswas said.

To prevent this condition, one should use eye drops (as prescribed by a doctor) three-four times a day.

One could also close the eyes for half-a-minute while sitting in front of the computer screen to bring moisture back to the eyes, Biswas said.

Listing out the preventive steps, Dhawan said patients should wear sunglasses to protect the eyes from the cold wind, while artificial tears - also known as tear substitutes - should be applied at least four times a day.

If the condition aggravates, use lubricating ointment at bedtime and run a humidifier to put moisture back into the air.

Also, lay a warm, damp washcloth across your eyelids for a couple of minutes, drink extra fluids and use a hot- or cold-air humidifier, Dhawan said.

According to the American Association of Ophthalmology, approximately 3.2 million women and 1.7 million men over the age of 50 suffer from chronic dry eyes.

End.

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