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7 ways winter can affect your eye health

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We all know we need to protect our eyes from UV light in the summer, but how can you also look after them in the winter?

Winter sunshine

This tends not to be a huge problem in the UK, but if you are heading off skiing or snowboarding the UV light can be eight times stronger because of the way it reflects off the snow and/or ice - hitting your eyes from below as well as above. Wear sunglasses or goggles (and possibly a visor) specifically designed to help protect your eyes during winter sports. Exposure to sunlight can potentially damage parts of the eye increasing your long-term risk of conditions like cataracts and AMD. The College of Optometrists say people with light coloured eyes are more at risk.

Central heating

It's cold so you have the central heating on and/or sit near a heater. But sitting in a centrally heated room all day (and very probably staring at a screen whilst in it) puts you more at risk of dry and itchy eyes. Turn the heating down a fraction, open the windows for a few minutes regularly, use a humidifier which works to put moisture back into the air and drink plenty of fluids to help stop your eyes drying out.

More online time

When the days get shorter and the nights draw in we tend to spend more time indoors watching tv or online. But if you are using a screen all day at work and then coming home to more screen time your eyes can feel the strain. Research shows we blink less when using a computer, close reading or watching any sort of blue screen from a tablet to the TV. A reduction in blinking means a decrease in tear production leaving your eyes feeling scratchy and dry. When using any screen the College of Optometrists recommends you look away from it every 20 minutes for 20 seconds to give your eye muscles a break.

Long dark nights

Driving is made slightly trickier during the long dark winter nights and often still murky early mornings. This is because your pupils dilate/enlarge in darkness and your depth of vision decreases and things can look blurrier. The advice is to be extra vigilant when driving in darkness and reduce your speed. The glare of sunlight on icy roads can also impair your vision so keep sunglasses with you in the car should you need them.

Staying in more

The days are shorter and we tend not to get outside as much - the lure of the box set winning out over a workout or walk but try to make the effort if you can. Not exercising can be a factor in several eye conditions (particularly for the over 60s). Doing some physical activity - try a brisk walk daily - can help reduce the risk of sight loss caused by high blood pressure and diabetes, for example.

Colds and 'flu

Aside from the usual symptoms of feeling bunged up, sneezing, headache, sore throat and temperature your eyes can become watery and feel sore, itchy and irritated when you have a cold or 'flu. They might also look red and inflamed. Resist the urge to rub them and instead splash them with cold water or apply a cold compress (a cool flannel soaked in cold water or steeped in soothing camomile teabags) and hold it over your eyes for a few minutes. Alternatively use eye drops.

Keeping well hydrated with plenty of fluids like water with honey and lemon and herbal teas will also help to stop your eyes feeling dry and sore. And up your intake of omega 3 foods like oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, eggs and walnuts. Or take a supplement. Research has shown omega 3 can help reduce inflammation and dry eyes.

Comfort food

In summer, we tend to eat more hydrating salads and seasonal fruit, in the winter we tend to crave starchy 'comfort' foods. Yet we need fruit and veg for optimum eye health. The antioxidant nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin are particularly beneficial (these have been shown to act like 'nature's sunglasses' and even help slow the progression of some degenerative eye conditions like AMD).

These yellow/orange pigments are found in high concentrations in the eye, particularly the macula (the small central portion of the retina) and also in orange-yellow fruits and vegetables and leafy green vegetables (including corn, squash, orange and yellow peppers, carrots, mango, honeydew melon and kale). Egg yolks and sweetcorn are also good sources of both. You can also find lutein and zeaxanthin in supplement form.

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