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Can Fans and AC Cause Dry Eye?

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a woman works at a computer next to a fan, but rubs her eye due to dryness

We all love summer. It means vacations, sunglasses, swimming, and heat. Sometimes a little too much heat has us running to our fans and air conditioning to get a direct rush of cool air.

In the moment, it’s the most refreshing heat relief that you could ask for. Unfortunately, there might be some long-lasting effects that you’re not aware of, such as evaporative dry eye disease.

While air conditioners bring comfort in hotter months by maintaining cool temperatures, most of us are unaware that they also cause an unnatural temperature change, which is harmful, especially to our eyes.

Evaporative Dry Eye Disease

Swollen, itchy eyes and blurred vision are symptoms of evaporative dry eye (EDE), a form of dry eye syndrome. Typically, the eyes are not producing sufficient tears to adequately coat the ocular surface, which leads to these symptoms.

Uncomfortable or irritated eyes are the most prevalent sign of EDE. This discomfort may appear in a variety of ways:

  • Stinging or burning in the eyes
  • Eye fatigue, especially after spending a lot of time using a computer, phone, or reading
  • Grittiness, or the sensation that something is in the eyes
  • Difficulty wearing contacts comfortably
  • Crusting around the eyes, and discolored swollen eyelids.

Ironically, some individuals may also experience excessive eye watering because the irritation may stimulate more tears to be produced. The tears do not contain the fatty oils needed to properly lubricate the eyes, so they don’t aid in properly moisturizing your ocular surface,

Humidity Reduction

Simply put, humidity is how much moisture is in the air. Our eyes like moisture, it’s used to keep our eyes lubricated and healthy, and hot air holds more moisture than cold air. 

Air conditioners may cause evaporative dry eyes by reducing humidity. The meibomian gland’s capacity to secrete oils that prevent the tears from evaporating too quickly decreases as the temperature drops. The air conditioner is one of the main reasons for:

  • Dry eyes
  • Redness
  • Itchiness
  • Irritation
  • Eye strain
  • Chronic headaches
  • Blurred vision

Additionally, AC ducts contain molds, bacteria, and viruses that cause eye inflammation, making them a multifaceted source that can harm the eyes.

The amount of humidity in your home will decrease as it gets colder. This may result in a variety of health problems, including dry eye disease.

The same thing happens when your car’s air conditioner is on. If you blow air in your face, dry eyes may become worse. Before you can properly blink to rehydrate your tear film, the blowing air will quickly dry out your eyes.

How to Manage Dry Eye from AC

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the symptoms of dry eye disease caused by your fans and air conditioning. 

Monitoring Your AC Use

You can manage your symptoms of dry eyes by regulating and maintaining your AC. Turn off the AC when not in use rather than keeping it running constantly. Turning off your air conditioner will allow moisture to return to the air, which will make it easier to maintain a healthy humidity level in your home.

Humidifiers

It seems pretty straightforward, but adding humidity back into your air is one of the best ways to combat dry air from your AC. Humidifiers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and some of them can be installed inside your home to provide the ideal humidity level all year long.

It would be wise to invest in a hygrometer for your home to make sure that your humidity levels are within the range that is typical for your climate. Hygrometers can tell you when to use your humidifier and when not to by measuring the humidity in your home’s air. 

a woman works at a computer next to a humidifier to combat dry eye

Eye Drops

To help your eyes feel more comfortable, your doctor might also suggest eye drops or artificial tears. You might need to try a few different drops, tears, gels, and ointments to see which one suits you the best.

Extra Eyelid Care

Your eye doctor might advise using warm compresses on your eyelids twice a day for a few minutes each to treat a moderate blockage of your meibomian glands. An over-the-counter lid scrub may also be suggested. 

To find a lid scrub that works well for you, you might need to experiment with a few different ones or, try using baby shampoo for a more cost-friendly alternative.

Dry Eye Relief Clinic

Regardless of where it comes from, a strong airburst can cause your eyes to dry out. Avoid any situation where air might blow straight in your face, whether it is from an air conditioner or a powerful fan.

Dry eye disease is one of the most common things we treat at EyeZone Nevada, almost 5 million Americans over 50 suffer from dry eye disease. No matter what brought on your symptoms, we have an advanced dry eye relief clinic to help you get back to living with comfortable healthy eyes and vision. 

Book your appointment today for a full examination and discover the best treatment options for you.

Written by Daniel Rowan

Reno optometrist, Dr. Daniel Rowan, was raised in Western Canada and attended Norwich University in Vermont on a hockey scholarship. After obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in both biology and sports medicine, he received his Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree from the New York College of Optometry in 2001. He performed rotations in a Queens VA hospital, specializing in glaucoma care, and an outpatient eye clinic in the Bronx. Immediately after graduating, he moved to Nevada and is now considered a top Reno optometrist. He is a member of the American Optometric Association and is board-certified by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry for the treatment and management of ocular diseases.
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