It's nothing to cry about. According to the National Eye Institute, dry eye occurs when tears aren't properly produced. Tears—a complex mixture of water, fatty oils and mucus which protects against infection—keep eyes smooth and vision clear.

When the tears aren't the proper consistency and evaporate too quickly, the surface of the eye can become irritated, inflamed and—if left untreated—can lead to pain, ulcers, scars on the cornea, and even temporary vision loss.

In addition to keeping our eyes moisturized and lubricated, our tears also work to keep germs and dust from irritating our eyes. They contain enzymes that neutralize microorganisms that may be found in the eye, and when we don't produce enough tears to accommodate environmental conditions, our eyes become vulnerable. This is especially problematic for contact lens wearers, older adults whose eyes produce less tears (especially post-menopausal women), and people on certain medications or with certain diseases that limit the body's ability to produce tears.

Winter: Prime Time for Dry Eyes

Even though winter weather is often wet, the air outside is dryer and colder than in other seasons. Add in wind and freezing temperatures and it's often more than our tear ducts can handle. When we're indoors, our heaters blast hot, dry air that evaporates moisture and even healthy tear ducts have a hard time keeping up production.

Preventing and Treating the Problem

Here are some ways to give your eyes some fast relief:

Artificial tears (eye drops) can temporarily moisturize eyes and reduce symptoms and irritation. Check with your eye care professional for recommendations of drops and brands that are appropriate for you. If you wear contact lenses, make certain the artificial teardrops you choose are compatible with them.

Eye lubricating ointments and gels can be placed inside the lower lashes at bedtime to soothe irritation and create moisture. These products can be purchased over the counter and should only be used at nighttime because their viscosity and thickness will temporarily blur vision. Don't worry, your vision will return and your eyes will feel fresher than ever come morning.

Humidifiers used indoors (especially when sleeping) add moisture to the air, which may prevent dryness and ease dry eye symptoms. You can pick one up at your drug store.

Fish Oil Supplements. Liesa Harte, MD, functional medicine specialist and founder of Elite Care in Austin, Texas recommends dietary supplements. "Dry eyes can also be improved by taking oral omega 3s like fish oil," the doctor says.

Sunglasses. Outdoors, protect your eyes from wind and cold—and the glare of snow, too—with a good pair of sunglasses.

If these DIY tips aren't enough to soothe your dry, sore eyes, see your doctor or eye health professional. You may have other issues with your tear ducts, eyelids or even the eyeball itself that require further treatment or prescription drops.

Liesa Harte, MD, reviewed this article.


National Eye Institute. "Facts About Dry Eye," Web. Accessed February 2014.