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Protect Your Peepers

During the winter months, you bundle up under scarves and sweaters and switch to a richer moisturizer, but how much attention do you pay to your eyes? Dry air and harsh winds are among the irritants that can lead to burning eyes, itchiness, and blurry vision, says Anne Sumers, MD, an ophthalmologist in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Luckily, there are some easy habits you can adopt to protect yourself. Follow these six simple steps to keep your eyes healthy this winter.

Wear Sunglasses

Wearing polarized sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection is critical for your winter eye health, Dr. Sumers says. “Sunlight reflected off the snow can actually sunburn the cornea in the winter,” she explains. In fact, snow reflects up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV light, so you’re being exposed to the same harmful rays twice, reports the Skin Cancer Foundation. And you need to be particularly careful if you are skiing, snowboarding, or engaging in any winter activity at high altitudes. That’s because UV radiation exposure increases 4 to 5 percent for every 1,000 feet above sea level.

Use a Humidifier or Lubricating Drops

Cold, dry air can irritate eyes, and indoor heaters also eliminate moisture from the air, which can lead to burning and blurry vision, notes Sumers. You may also feel like something gritty is in your eye. “People mistake this for an allergy or infection, but it’s just natural tears drying out,” she explains. Sumers recommends cracking open your window at night or using a humidifier. While driving, aim heating vents at your feet, not your face. Over-the-counter preservative-free artificial tears may also provide immediate relief, Sumers says.

Drink Plenty of Water

You know to drink plenty of fluids when it’s hot outside, but it’s just as important to stay hydrated in the winter to help prevent dry eyes, says Trennda L. Rittenbach, OD, a doctor of optometry with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Minneapolis and a member of the American Optometric Association’s Evidenced-Based Optometry Committee. “People forget to hydrate from within,” she says. “Getting enough water daily can make a huge difference, particularly if you are going to be outside in dry and windy conditions.”

Eat More Fish

Research suggests that what you put into your body also affects your eyes, Dr. Rittenbach notes. “Eating a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids could help alleviate dry eyes,” she says. Omega-3 fatty acids are an effective treatment for dry eye syndrome, according to a recent review of seven studies published in the Medical Science Monitor. Mackerel, tuna, salmon, anchovies, and trout are all good sources of these beneficial oils. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, you should aim for about 3.5 ounces of these fatty fish to get about 1 gram of omega-3s.

Keep Your Hands Off

The itching, burning, and irritation associated with dry eyes may tempt you to rub your eyes, but that’s a no-no — no matter what time of year it is. Although you may think this will offer some relief, resist the temptation, Sumers cautions. “Rubbing your eyes is like itching a mosquito bite,” she says. “It only makes things worse and causes more irritation.” It could also lead to infection, Rittenbach notes. “There is a lot of bacteria on your hands, and it could get into your eyes,” she explains.

Take Breaks From the Computer

If watching hours of Netflix on your laptop while it snows outside sounds like your ideal day, make sure to take regular breaks: Increased time spent in front of the computer can make your eyes become increasingly dry and irritated. “It’s always a good idea to take a break and do something else for a few minutes,” Sumers advises. Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, shift your eyes from the computer to something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Rittenbach also recommends making an effort to blink more often. “You blink a lot less when staring at a computer screen,” she explains.

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