According to the American Optometric Association, dry eyes are a common complaint during the winter months. The source of irritation, eyestrain, and overall discomfort, dry eyes can be caused by dry air, blocked tear ducts or fluctuations of estrogen and androgen that decrease production of your natural tears. Symptoms may include dryness, irritation, burning, and a gritty feeling.
Artificial tears and prescription eye drops that increase tear production are popular treatments relied on to relieve the symptoms of dry eyes.
But, tea, an ordinary kitchen staple, could also offer hours of relief for those living with dry eyes.
A cup of tea is typically relied on to soothe a sore throat or the stress of a rough day. And experts say instead of tossing the used tea bag after you’ve steeped your brew, use the tea bag to treat your dry eyes.
Michael Summerfield, M.D., an ophthalmologist in Rockville, MD, says the moist heat is tea bags’ secret. Not the type of tea. “The benefit of using tea bags to soothe dry eyes comes from the warmth of the tea bag and the effect it has on glands in the eyelids.”
Alan Glazier, M.D., a leading dry eye specialist at the Shady Grove Eye and Vision Care Dry Eye Center of Excellence in Rockville Maryland says, “We often prescribe warm moist compresses in the form of wet, folded paper towels or tea bags for mild cases of evaporative dry eye.”
Because Dr. Summerfield says the type of tea doesn’t matter, you can use any blend you already have in the house. If you’re going to drink the tea, steep the tea bag as you normally would, for 1 to 3 minutes in hot water. Then squeeze the tea bag fairly dry (leave it moist, not completely wrung out) and as long as it’s not too hot to the touch, flatten it out and place on your closed eyes for 3 to 5 minutes.
If you’re starting with a dry tea bag, run it under warm water (if your hand can’t bear the temperature of the water, it’s too hot for your eyelid) for 1 minute or until the tea bag is completely wet. Squeeze it fairly dry and lay the flattened tea bag over your closed eyes for 3 to 5 minutes.
Ideally, it is best to apply the warm, moist heat of the tea bag at least 4x a day for a 5 minute application each time, says Dr. Summerfield.
Additional Eye-Soothing Advice
In addition to tea compresses, these remedies may provide relief of dry eye symptoms:
• Stay hydrated; drinking 6 to 8 glasses daily helps bring relief to dry eyes and lids.
• Take breaks while reading or using the computer.
• Use a humidifier at night or while sleeping.
• Apply over-the-counter lubricating eye drops that contain “artificial tears.” Since you may have to remove contacts to use these, lens wearers might prefer contact lens rewetting drops.
• Place reusable hot or cold packs on eyes to relax on contact; this can improve symptoms for up to an hour.