Chronic dry eye is a condition characterized by too few tears or tears of poor quality. It can be a serious condition. If left untreated, it can lead to infections and damage to your eyes. If you find yourself with symptoms of dry eye or you rely on eye drops frequently, see your doctor for an evaluation. This isn’t an uncommon condition, and it tends to occur more often in people as they age.

Dry eye or allergies?

Seasonal allergens can cause symptoms that are similar to the symptoms of chronic dry eye. If you have irritated or dry eyes — especially during spring and fall when allergens are more abundant outside — you need to get the correct diagnosis so you can get the best treatment. The symptoms these two conditions have in common include dryness, redness, and grittiness. Burning is also a common symptom of dry eye, while itching is more likely with allergies. Allergies often include nasal congestion as well.

If you experience a lot of itchiness, even if you also feel a burning sensation in your eyes, it’s likely that your symptoms are the result of an allergy. Get a diagnosis from your doctor. If an allergen is the culprit, the fix could be as easy as an allergy medication that won’t make dry eye worse. It’s important to see your doctor for the best medication recommendation, as over-the-counter oral antihistamines used for allergies can actually cause dry eye as a side effect.

Avoiding the outdoors when pollen and other allergen levels are high can also help.

Dry eye by the seasons

Weather and climate have big impacts on the health of your eyes. If you suffer from chronic dry eye, the changing seasons can cause you to go through a year-long roller coaster of discomfort and relief. Temperatures, humidity, wind, and seasonal allergens can all affect dry eyes, causing symptoms to rise and fall.

One study found that complaints about dry eye varied significantly by season. The researchers surveyed people living in and around Boston who had all been diagnosed with chronic dry eye. The number of complaints peaked in the winter. Fall and spring were similar. And in summer, the researchers saw the fewest complaints.

Your dry eye symptoms are likely to vary by season, but you can do something about it! Here are some changes you may experience and ideas for how to combat dry eye throughout the year.

Spring

One of the biggest factors to exacerbate dry eye symptoms in the spring is the presence of allergens, like pollen. One study found that in most cases, pollen was to blame for worsening symptoms during the spring months.

If you have chronic dry eye that gets worse in spring, you may have allergies too. See your doctor and find out if allergy medicines will help. Taking an allergy medicine on spring days that cause your symptoms to flare up may be enough to bring you relief. Other times, you may need to take medication every day throughout the season in order to best manage your symptoms.

Summer

Think of summer as a vacation from your dry eye symptoms. Researchers see a dip in dry eye in the summer, and people living with the condition report fewer or less severe symptoms. This is likely due to the weather, with warmer and more humid air helping to keep eyes moist. Enjoy your summer and use your treatments and home remedies only as needed during this time of year.

Fall

In fall, a couple of factors can lead to an increase in dry eye symptoms: allergens and colder, drier air. Hay fever is an old-fashioned term used to describe some of the common allergens of late summer and early fall, like ragweed. Hay fever can trigger eye symptoms and worsen dry eye. As in the spring, an allergy medication may help alleviate your eye itchiness and dryness.

Outdoor activities in the fall may worsen reactions to allergens. Avoid being outside on days when your eyes seem especially irritated. It may also help to avoid activities that stir up allergens, like yard work and raking leaves. Or, wear safety goggles when you work outside to avoid getting irritants in your eyes. Leaves harbor ragweed and mold, another culprit that can also trigger eye allergies.

Winter

Increasingly cold air in the fall also exacerbates dry eyes, and this comes to a peak in the winter months. Dry eye symptoms are at their worst during the coldest season. The air is drier outside and also inside because of indoor heating. Furnaces dry out indoor air, making your eyes feel even worse. Winter is also the season of colds and the flu. Taking decongestants and other over-the-counter cold medicines can make dry eye worse.

A humidifier can help add moisture to the air in your home. Also practice good hygiene, like washing your hands often, so you can avoid getting sick and relying on cold medicines. Avoid going outside when the weather is especially cold and windy. Wearing goggles outside can help protect your eyes and prevent moisture loss. With symptoms at their worst, winter is a good time to see your doctor about dry eye symptoms if you haven’t already.

The Takeaway

The changing seasons can be tough on the eyes. Be aware of how changing conditions affect your eyes. Take steps to protect your eyes from weather, add moisture to your indoor environment, and avoid contact with allergens if they affect you. Above all, see your doctor if you can’t find relief from dry eyes.