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Dry eyes can cause redness, irritation, and blurred vision. Using a compress on the affected area may be an effective and simple treatment method for relieving symptoms of dry eye.

A compress for dry eyes.Share on Pinterest
Heide Benser/Getty Images

This article looks at types of compresses and how to use them. It also discusses the safety and effectiveness of using a compress for dry eyes.

According to eye health experts, meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) is a common cause of dry eye.

The meibomian glands are small glands on the eyelids that produce oil. This oil assists in lubricating the surface of the eye, helping prevent tears from evaporating. MGD is a condition where the meibomian glands do not produce enough oil, or the oil is of reduced quality. This can lead to dry eyes.

If MGD causes dry eyes, people may benefit from using a warm compress on the affected area. A warm compress can help increase oil production from the glands and improve the flow of existing oil.

Cold compresses are also suitable for MGD. Additionally, they may also benefit individuals who have an inflammatory condition of the eyes, such as allergic conjunctivitis. A cold compress may also help reduce inflammation.

Older research suggests a warm compress with a temperature of around 113ºF (45°C), held on the eye for at least 4 minutes, may be an effective treatment for dry eye. From the range of available warm compress options, moist heated towels wrapped in a bundle may be the most effective method.

A 2017 study found that a warm compress containing menthol was effective in treating dry eyes. The study involved 55 people, both with and without dry eyes. Menthol may be effective for this condition as it stimulates the flow of tears. The research stated that repeated use of a warm compress with menthol led to a significant increase in the volume of tear fluid and the time it took for tear film to break up.

An older study from 2013 found that using a cold compress to treat dry eyes in people with eye inflammation was as effective as using artificial tears, a common treatment method for this condition.

A person can buy either a warm compress or cold compress specifically designed for the eyes.

Warm compress

People may use a warm compress that they heat in the microwave. Individuals can follow the product instructions to ensure the compress reaches the correct temperature before placing it over closed eyes for the recommended time.

Warm eye compresses are available in pharmacies and online.

Cold compress

An older study from 2013 found that applying a cold compress to the eyes three times a day, for 30 seconds at a time over the course of 1 month, was as effective as using artificial tears to treat dry eyes.

Cold eye compresses are available in pharmacies and online.

People could try creating a warm or cold compress using household items.

If individuals make their own warm compress, they need to take care that it does not become too hot, as this could damage the eyes or surrounding skin.

A person can try the following options to make a compress at home:

  • Using a damp cloth: Soak a clean cloth in hot or cold water, wring it out, and apply over the eyes. Alternatively, dampen a towel with cold water and place it in a sealed bag in the freezer.
  • Using teabags: Steep two tea bags in hot water, squeeze out the liquid, and wait for them to cool slightly before placing on the eyes. For a cold compress, cool the tea bags in the refrigerator.
  • Using rice: Place a handful of uncooked rice into a clean sock, tie the end, and place it in the microwave. Test the temperature on the inner wrist before placing over the eyes.

Learn more about tea bags for eyes.

People may also use cucumber slices as a cold compress. This fruit may have many potential benefits, including increasing hydration to the eyes and surrounding areas. Cucumbers also contain lignans, which may help decrease inflammation.

Learn more about using cucumbers on the eyes.

The duration and frequency of compress use may vary for each individual and type of compress.

If people are unsure which compress is best for treating the underlying cause of dry eyes and how best to use one, they can discuss their options with an eye doctor.

To treat MGD, individuals may find it helpful to use a warm compress on the eye twice a day to treat active symptoms and once a day to help prevent or manage the condition.

Using a cold compress three times a day, for 30 seconds at a time, may be an effective way to treat dry eyes.

If people use a warm compress, they need to be careful that it does not become too hot. Compresses that became too hot may cause thermal injury to the surface of the eye or surrounding area.

Similarly, cool compresses may be beneficial to cooling and hydrating the eye, but any extreme temperatures may cause damage to the eye or delicate surrounding area.

People can also make sure not to use any substances or materials near the eye that may cause an allergic reaction.

Compresses can help relieve the symptoms of dry eyes. However, the National Eye Institute (NEI) states that a person may also require additional treatments, including:

  • over-the-counter eye drops or artificial tears
  • prescription medications, such as cyclosporine and lifitegrast, for more serious cases
  • tear duct plugs
  • surgery, which may be an option if the lower eyelids become too loose

People may find it soothing to keep the artificial tears cold. In addition, they may require a combination of the above to improve symptoms.

Individuals can also try the following methods to ease dry eye symptoms:

  • avoiding smoky, windy, and air-conditioned environments
  • using a humidifier to help keep the air from becoming too dry
  • limiting the time they spend looking at screens
  • taking regular breaks from screens
  • drinking 8–10 glasses of water per day
  • sleeping for 7–8 hours every day if possible

Learn more about the treatment options for dry eyes.

People may have dry eyes if they experience the following symptoms:

  • a scratchy or gritty sensation, as if something is in the eye
  • a stinging or burning feeling
  • redness in the whites of the eye
  • increased sensitivity to light
  • blurred vision
  • a feeling of pressure on the eyes

According to the NEI, dry eyes may occur due to an issue with the quality or production of tears, including:

  • tear glands that do not produce enough tears to keep the eyes well hydrated
  • tears that evaporate from the surface of the eye too quickly
  • poor quality of tears, meaning they do not work effectively to keep the eye well hydrated

Certain factors can increase the chance of developing dry eyes, including:

  • being aged 50 years or older
  • being female
  • wearing contact lenses
  • having a deficiency in vitamin A or omega-3 fatty acids
  • having certain autoimmune conditions, such as lupus or Sjogren’s syndrome
  • some oral medications, such as antihistamines

People can speak with a doctor if they have any symptoms of dry eyes. A healthcare professional can check to see what may be causing them and advise suitable treatments.

If individuals are unsure whether a hot or cold compress could help improve their eye conditions, they can speak with an eye doctor who can recommend appropriate treatment options.

While dry eye is a common condition, regular use of an eye compress may help relieve symptoms.

People may find a warm compress can help with conditions, such as MGD, as it can help stimulate better oil production and reduce tear evaporation.

Individuals can also use cold compresses to reduce inflammation, which may suit those with any eye inflammation.