Is Cold Winter Weather Making You Cry?

Two women run down Mountain Avenue in a snowstorm.

Though we typically only think of “tears” as what roll down our cheek, the eyes actually produce tears constantly, which spread across the front of the eye each time we blink. Instead of appearing to cry all the time, eyes naturally drain tears through channels called lacrimal canaliculi that eventually deposit the tears in the upper reaches of the nose (which explains the runny nose that accompanies those romantic movie sob-fests).

In winter, the cold dry air is an irritant and the eyes’ natural response is to flood it out – just like you’d get all teary-eyed if dust or an eyelash fell into your eyes – but the cold just keeps on coming, and so do the tears.

In fact, many people experience itchy, watery eyes even indoors during the winter months as humidity-scrubbing furnaces create extremely dry air in houses and offices, and there’s no relief when the cold, dry air outside has the same effect, especially combined with an icy wind that literally peels the lubricating tears right off.

So what’s a die-hard winter runner – or an office-bound desk jockey stuck in the cubicle equivalent of the Sahara – to do? Well first off, remember to blink. Sure, that’s like remembering to breathe, but whether your gaze is fixed on the distant hill you’ve got to climb or the TPS report that simply refuses to write itself, people don’t blink as often as they normally would when focused on something, and it’s tough for the eyes’ tear distribution to find equilibrium.

Next, find some humidity. Aggressive eye watering is a full-on offensive against dry air, so if you can’t say sayonara to the great white north for some tropical destination, put a humidifier in the house or consider running indoors at a steamy gym (not without its own set of potential hazards).

Finally, when you’re channeling Prefontaine and feel the wind whipping through your hair, put on some shades. Sure it might be as gloomy as Eeyore outside, but sunglasses – especially those of the wraparound variety – will shield your eyes from the wind and keep the crying at bay.

Of course, like any eye health issue, persistently watering eyes could signal real issues, so check with your local eye doctor. Infections, blocked tear ducts and persistent irritants (like an eyelash growing the wrong way) can all cause extremely watery eyes that no amount of substituting ice cream consumption for pounding out the miles will cure.

Source: Essilor USA