Winter is here. For many, that means illness, lost work, missed school days, lots of copays to pay, and (my favorite) dry eye season.
I describe the “dry eye season” as ranging from Halloween to Valentine’s Day. I live in Alabama, so yours might be longer. If it is, you should move here. I have a love-hate relationship with winter.
Humidity in the air
Heating of cold air reduces humidity in the air. Humidity is relative because cold winter air contains far less moisture than warmer summer air, even when saturated. Relative humidity is the percent of water saturation of the air, and it is temperature dependent. One cubic foot of air when the temperature is 0° requires only 0.001 ounce of water to saturate it. Some 0.022 ounces of water is required to saturate that one cubic foot of air at 80 degrees.
Previously from Dr. Schroeder-Swartz: Balancing work and home as an OD during the holidays
Hence, the air is drier this time of the year. The drier air desiccates mucous membranes, causing inflammation. This results in dry skin, irritated sinuses, scratchy throats, contact lens problems, and scratchy eyes. A compromised mucous membrane fails to protect the body, increasing risk of colds, flu, and other infections.
Infectious diseases enjoy increased incidence during the winter months due to children staying inside, more people using mass transit, and parents of sick children taking the germs to work or into public places. Infections that increase during winter months include the common cold, the flu, acute ear infections, bronchiolitis, and norovirus.1
Epidemics of colds and flu impact our families, our offices, and our patients. Our patient schedules may fluctuate dramatically, and our staff tends to call out sick either from personal illness or sick children. In the United States, flu viruses increase during the winter months. Influenza infection often begins to increase in the months of October and November. Typically, flu activity peaks between December and February and may last as late as the month of May.2
Related: The changing dry eye dynamic
There are many different flu viruses, which are constantly changing. The composition of flu vaccines in the United States is reviewed annually and updated yearly in an attempt to match currently circulating flu viruses. Nasal vaccines are not recommended for the 2017-2018 flu season.