When the Air Conditioning Dies: Fanning the Dry Eye Flames

This past summer, I experienced a particularly difficult week in my chronic dry eye journey. The building where I work had its air conditioning go down. This is a frequent problem in the summer for this building, but the timing could not have been worse this time: we were expected to flirt with 100 degrees Fahrenheit for several days.

The only way to survive the situation until there was a repair was to adapt. So, we all switched to a very business-casual, shorts-and-tee-shirt look. And, of course, the other adaptation was fans. They were everywhere in the building that week. I even brought a couple of mine in.

How I cope when fans are a necessity

I hate fans. If you have chronic dry eye, I’m guessing you probably also hate fans. All that extra blowing air on eyes that don’t function well just adds insult to injury. I don’t even care for having the air conditioning in my car blowing in my face anymore. It’s somewhat tolerable if I have the vents blowing to the side so the car is cooler, but I can have no direct air blowing into my face.

When it got up to about 85 degrees in the building though, I had no choice. To make matters worse, it was still pretty dry in there. I brought my hygrometer in and the humidity was around 30 percent. That was better than the bone-dry readings I saw in the winter, but still nowhere near my comfort zone.

Learning to adapt is an essential skill for anyone navigating chronic dry eye. Most of us spend a lot of time googling questions, looking for solutions, and simply going through trial and error.

When I got to my office with the fan, I set it so it would circulate air around me without blowing directly into my face—just like the vents in my car. And I was extra sure to bring my preservative-free drops just in case my eyes started feeling really bad. Genteal makes a gel drop that I use occasionally in situations like this. It has a thicker consistency and stays in my eyes a bit longer.

Blinking and rest are essential for dry eye self-care

As silly as it may sound, I also tried to remember to do blinking exercises every 15 minutes while working in these conditions. It’s something important to do anyway when you stare at a computer screen most of the day. But the simple act of blinking is so important for your eyes. It helps release oils in the glands in your eyelids and improves the quality of your tear film. See Amanda’s video about blinking exercises here.

Along with that, I took a few times simply to close my eyes and rest them. Even your eyes need a break from time to time. This is part of learning to practice self-care. It’s all too easy in the culture we live in to push ourselves, physically and mentally. But if your eyes are burning, irritated, or just tired, it’s time to listen and respond to what you’re feeling.

There was one day though when was simply too much. It was so hot in the building that it wasn’t just my eyes. I felt sick and unproductive. Fortunately, my boss was understanding enough to allow me to work from home for the rest of the day.

Adaptation is key

After our week of misery, one day I walked into the office and could feel the difference immediately: the A/C was fixed! I was glad the ordeal was over, but the lesson for me was that I need to be adaptable. Even though I have chronic dry eye, I do everything I can to adapt to all the situations that come up like this.

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