A warm compress for dry eyes can help relieve your symptoms and make you feel more comfortable, even if it’s not always able to fully treat the cause.

Dry eye syndrome happens when you experience dry eyes because your tears aren’t lubricating your eyes well enough or because you aren’t producing enough tears.

Some common symptoms of dry eye syndrome include:

Dry eye syndrome can have many causes — from allergies and dry air to aging or medical conditions that can affect your body’s ability to produce tears.

Read on to learn how warm compresses work for dry eye and how to make a warm compress yourself.

A warm compress helps reduce dry eye symptoms by:

  • bringing moisture from steam and liquid to the eyeball and eye area to help you produce tears
  • loosening or unclogging oil glands that produce meibum, a fatty compound that coats the healthy tear film to delay evaporation
  • reducing eye twitching from muscle spasms that result from extremely dry eyes
  • relieving pain and reducing swelling by increasing blood flow to eyes and surrounding tissues, especially if you have blood vessel abnormalities that can affect tear production

Are warm or cold compresses best for dry eyes?

Warm compresses are usually more effective than cold compresses for dry eyes.

Warmth opens up blood vessels and increases blood flow to help relieve eye pain and swelling. Warmth and moisture can also loosen up constricted or clogged oil glands. This helps increase your production of meibum, a fatty compound that helps your tears lubricate your eyes more effectively.

A small 2021 study also suggested that warmth helps stimulate meibum production if you have meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). MGD happens because of inflammation or damage in the eyelids and eye tissues. It can cause recurring dry eyes that also increase your risk of further inflammation or damage.

Cold compresses are effective for acute eye pain or injuries by reducing swelling and decreasing blood flow to cuts. But a cold compress can reduce oil and tear production and contribute to dry eye symptoms.

Here’s what you’ll need to make a warm compress for dry eyes at home:

  • a clean bowl or container to hold warm water
  • one to two clean washcloths or small towels
  • a plastic bag that you can zip or seal shut
  • a microwave
  • 10 to 15 minutes of time to close your eyes

Now, here’s one way to quickly make a warm compress:

  1. Fill the bowl or container with warm water that’s not too hot to the touch.
  2. Dip the washcloth or towel into the warm water until it’s soaked through.
  3. Lift the washcloth out of the water and wring out excess water.
  4. Fold the washcloth in half or until it’s a size that will cover both eyes.

Depending on your materials, you can also try this method:

  1. Moisten the washcloths or towels using cold water.
  2. Put one of the washcloths in the plastic bag, but don’t seal the bag yet.
  3. Put the washcloth and bag into the microwave for about 2 minutes.
  4. Take the washcloth out of the microwave and seal it immediately. Be careful not to burn or scald yourself.
  5. Wrap the second moist washcloth around the sealed bag.

Here’s how to use your warm compress:

  1. Sit back or lie down so that the washcloth will stay in place.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Lay the washcloth over both eyes so that you cover the entire area around each eye.
  4. Let the washcloth sit on your eyes for 5 to 10 minutes or until it’s not warm anymore.

Here are some tips to use your warm compress safely:

  • Use clean washcloths or towels that you do not use for other purposes, such as dusting or cleaning with chemicals.
  • Don’t use water that’s boiling or too hot.
  • Before applying, place the warm compress on the underside of your forearm to confirm that it’s not too hot.
  • Use a new cloth and fresh, clean water each time you make a compress.
  • Don’t leave the cloth on your eyes more than 10 minutes at a time.

How often can you use warm compresses for dry eye?

It’s safe to use a warm compress to treat dry eye multiple times per day to relieve your symptoms. There’s no specific limit that people recommend.

But using a warm compress too frequently can dry out the skin around the eyes or cause irritation. Using a warm compress as needed two to three times per day is usually enough to relieve symptoms.

Here are other home remedies for dry eye that you can try:

  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to dry indoor air.
  • Take a break from looking at screens at least once every hour.
  • Try to avoid smoking or reduce exposure to cigarette smoke.
  • Stay inside when it’s windy or the air is dry outside.
  • Rinse your eyes with warm water and baby shampoo or mild soap.
  • Use eye drops for dry eyes just as an eye doctor or eye specialist recommends.
  • Use over-the-counter eyelid wipes to remove crusts and some bacteria that can cause blepharitis (eyelid inflammation).
  • Take omega-3 supplements or eat foods rich in omega-3 to reduce swelling, such as flaxseed, fish, or walnuts.

Contact a doctor if warm compresses do not help you relieve dry eyes or if you notice any of the following:

  • symptoms getting worse or not improving
  • persistent burning or stinging even when using home remedies
  • blurry vision even if you wear glasses
  • eyes feeling dry even after using eye drops
  • severe eye dryness that interferes with daily activities
  • headaches or migraine episodes that happen along with dry eyes

Warm compresses can relieve discomfort that happens with dry eyes. They’re easy to make, and you can use them multiple times a day for relief.

Contact a doctor if warm compresses or other home remedies do not help you relieve dry eyes — or if you notice other symptoms along with persistent dry eyes.