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Pros & Cons of Using Humidifier for Dry Eye

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a woman works on her computer with a humidifier next to her to treat dry eye

Dry eye symptoms can affect many aspects of your day-to-day life. Regular eye exams at your optometrist can assess discomfort, such as dry eyes and provide a custom approach to your eye care needs.

As frustrating as dry eye symptoms are, there is hope. Finding ways to reduce your dry eye symptoms can provide relief. One way is to use a humidifier. Let’s discuss dry eyes in more detail and look at some pros and cons of using a humidifier for dry eyes. 

What Is Dry Eye?

Dry eye syndrome is a condition that occurs when there is a lack of moisture on the surface of an eye due to the low production of tears or improper chemical composition of tears. It’s a common condition, affecting around 30 percent of the population in Canada. 

Dry eyes can cause the following symptoms:

  • Irritation
  • Itching
  • Burning or stinging sensation 
  • Gritty feeling
  • Excessive tearing
  • Redness and pain
  • Blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Discomfort with contact lens wear
  • Eye fatigue
  • Heavy eyelids
  • Difficulty with focused tasks such as reading and computer use

Causes of Dry Eyes

Dry eyes can result from the following:

  1. Glands don’t produce enough tears to keep your eyes moist
  2. Tears evaporate or dry up too fast
  3. Tears don’t work well enough because of the improper chemical composition of water, mucin, or oil. 

There are several causes of dry eyes, including:

  • Aging: The number of tears produced decreases with the normal aging process.
  • Gender: Women experience dry eye symptoms more than men due to hormonal changes.
  • Medications: Hormone replacement therapy, antidepressants, antihistamines, and birth control.
  • Refractive surgery: Laser eye surgery
  • Blepharitis: Inflammation of the eyelids
  • Medical conditions: These include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and thyroid issues
  • Long-term contact lens wear

Other causes of dry eyes include environmental factors, such as pollution, smoke, dry weather, air-conditioning, central heating, and long periods spent in front of a computer screen. A humidifier can provide much-needed relief for dry eyes if caused by these factors. 

Can a Humidifier Help Dry Eyes?

Environments where the air is dry increase the evaporation rate of tears. Ideal levels of humidity range between 40 to 60 percent. A modest increase in humidity has shown the potential to improve tear-film stability and comfort during computer use. 

Pros of Using a Humidifier for Dry Eyes:

  • A humidifier increases the humidity levels by introducing more moisture in the air, decreasing the evaporation rate of tears, keeping the eyes more comfortable and improving dry eye symptoms.
  • Humidifiers are for home and office use. Portable humidifiers make it possible to use at your desk if spending the day in front of a computer screen or at your bedside if you experience dry eyes in the morning. 
  • Humidifiers are safe to use and non-toxic.
  • Humidifiers also clean the air by weighing down dust, dirt, and other allergens that can irritate the eyes and cause eye infections. 
a hand reaches into the screen turns up a setting on a humidifier to attempt dry eye relief

Cons of Using a Humidifier for Dry Eyes

While a humidifier can help relieve dry eye symptoms, there are some cons to using them:

  • A humidifier can help, but using one alone will not resolve dry eyes. Using eye drops, warm compress, limiting contact lens wear, and taking frequent breaks after reading or using the computer can also help with dry eye symptoms. 
  • You can introduce chemicals and other debris if you use tap water. Distilled water is best to use in a humidifier.
  • If not cleaned regularly, bacteria can grow in standing water. Bacteria can cause irritation and red or watery eyes. 
  • Too much humidity or moisture can result in mould buildup. 
  • You may not see the benefits of using a humidifier if not used regularly, for example, if used at the office but not at home. Inconsistent management can lead to the worsening of symptoms. 

Dry Eye Relief with Moisture

Moisture in the air and the eyes can significantly improve dry eye symptoms. While humidifiers can reduce symptoms of dry eyes, they also have some limitations.

They can’t solve the problem alone, but their use can prevent your dry eyes from worsening if used with other treatment options. For the best-tailored approach to relief from chronic dry eyes, book an appointment with Foresee Eyecare. We can provide various at-home and in-office remedies for your individual needs. 

Written by Dr. Timothy H. Tsang

Dr. Timothy Tsang obtained his Doctorate of Optometry, graduating cum laude from the Illinois College of Optometry. He completed clinical externships with honours in hospitals across the United States as well as abroad in Australia. Upon graduating, he received scholarships to continue academic interests and completed a residency in primary care and ocular disease.

Dr. Tsang has extensive experience diagnosing, treating, and managing ocular disease and emergency conditions and continues to find passion in learning and educating his patients, students, and colleagues.

Dr. Tsang was awarded the distinction of Clinical Educator of the Year in his first year of teaching. He has held positions of clinical lecturer, assistant professor of optometry, as well as an admissions committee member at the Illinois College of Optometry. Dr. Tsang has presented in optometry conferences and has also published in peer-reviewed journals. He serves as an editorial reviewer for Canadian and American journals of optometry.

Dr. Tsang previously served as the director of ocular disease services at the Vision Institute of Canada and has been an optometry representative on the Eye Health Council of Ontario. He has previously held positions as director of the board and lead of education for the Ontario Association of Optometrists.

Currently, Dr. Tsang is in private practice in Vaughan. He has served as an adjunct clinical lecturer for the School of Optometry, University of Waterloo, and is a clinical instructor of primary care, ocular disease, and emergency eye care at Foresee Eyecare. He currently serves on the Quality Assurance-Clinical Practice Committee of the College of Optometrists of Ontario and is also the staff optometrist at Mon Sheong Richmond Hill Long-Term Care Centre.

Clinical Instructor, School of Optometry, University of Waterloo Externship Preceptor, Illinois College of Optometry

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