How does air conditioning impact your eye health?

26 April 2022

Author: Kate Green

Air conditioning dry eyes

What are the symptoms of dry eyes?


The days are growing longer, the weather is getting warmer and, on hot days, our houses are getting stuffier. With talk of a heat wave this summer, as well as the very warm April we’ve just experienced, now is the perfect time to look into how air conditioning can affect your eyes. While we don’t all have AC units in our homes like our friends in Australia or the US do, the majority of our office buildings, shops and public spaces have. Although this can feel incredible on a very hot day, you may have noticed yourself experiencing increasingly dry eyes during times when the AC is switched on.


Symptoms of dry eye syndrome can include:

  • Red eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Tired eyes
  • Sore, itchy or burning sensation
  • Foreign body sensation
  • Blurry vision
  • Light sensitivity


What are our tears made up of?


Before we look into exactly how AC can affect the hydration of your eyes, we should cover what the tears in our eyes are comprised of. There are three components: one oily, one watery, and one mucus-like. Different parts in the eye are responsible for producing different elements of the tear film, with the watery component being produced by the glands above your upper eyelid. The oily component comes from glands in your eyelids, while the mucus-like part is produced by cells in the white of your eye.


In order to have well lubricated eyes with no discomfort due to dryness, you need to have the right balance between the oily, watery and mucus components of the tear film. Your tears have multiple purposes including hydrating the eye, washing away dust or dirt that enters the eye, and preventing infection to promote overall good eye health. When one of these components is disrupted, it can throw out the balance that is needed for your tear film to function as it should.


How exactly does AC dry your eyes out?


When the AC is on, it works by removing moisture from the air. The cooler the air, the less vapour it contains, but the more it dries out your eyes. This effect of AC disrupts the watery element of your tear film, kick-starting the tear film imbalance we discussed above. A well-functioning tear film delivers oxygen to your cornea and lubricates the front surface of the eye to keep it moist with a smooth structure. A good tear film promotes a smooth structure of the eye’s surface. This explains why people with severe dry eye symptoms can sometimes find themselves dealing with blurry vision.


Essentially, AC dries out your vision by encouraging the tear film to evaporate before it has time to renew. It typically renews 15 times a minute so short blasts of AC are unlikely to cause too much of an issue. However, if you find yourself in air conditioned spaces for longer periods of time, such as while you’re at work, you may begin to experience dry eye symptoms. If you wear contact lenses, you might find the symptoms particularly difficult as the lens can also disrupt the tear film, leading to even less lubrication.


How can you prevent dry eyes caused by AC?


There are a number of steps you can take to minimise the likelihood of suffering with dry eyes caused by exposure to air conditioning. The most obvious – and not always practical – piece of advice is to avoid AC where possible. It’s not always hot enough to need it, so if you’ve been dealing with dry eyes and you can go without the blast of cool air, it’s an option. If you do require the AC to be on, it’s also suggested that you don’t sit directly under the air flow from the AC unit. Being in the firing line of the cool air can dry your eyes out even more than if you were simply on the other side of the room from it. You can also try a humidifier to make sure there is enough moisture in the air, counteracting the evaporation caused by the AC. Failing that, eye drops are always a good option to provide quick easy relief for dry eyes.


In terms of lifestyle changes you can make, ensuring that you are well hydrated does wonders for your eye lubrication and overall eye health. You can read more about the importance of staying hydrated and the benefits for your eyes on our blog here. The benefits of eating a healthy, well-balanced diet are also huge for your eyes. Consuming the right amount of leafy greens, oily fish, beans and eggs helps to ensure that your eyes are healthy and well lubricated. You can read about the top ten foods to boost your eye health on our blog, which should provide a good starting point.


Bear these pointers in mind as the warmer weather approaches and we start to soak up the warm rays of summer, accompanied by the gentle whir of the AC unit. Long term dry eyes can lead to corneal ulcers, corneal abrasions, eye inflammation and even, in severe cases, loss of vision. It’s clear that avoiding known triggers for dry eye syndrome, one of which is air conditioning, is vital in protecting your eye health and minimising the likelihood of developing the above symptoms.


For further information on your eye health, check out the following blog posts:

What are the symptoms of dry eye disease?

Can central heating in winter cause dry eye disease?

Do you drink enough water to keep your eyes healthy?


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