A warm compress can be really beneficial for giving yourself some relief from irritation, dryness, and redness in the eyes. There are a lot of reasons why your eyes may feel like that, including allergies, blepharitis, a sty, rosacea, dermatitis, conjunctivitis, sinusitis, viral infections, bacterial infections, wearing contact lenses, or even just tiredness. Hence, while a warm compress may provide you with relief, it is important that you do get your eyes checked out as well, to rule out the need for any prescription medication.
The eyes are very delicate organs, and you have to pay close attention to them. If you experience discomfort, pain, vision disturbances, a feeling that something is in your eye, or any other form of irritation, you should get it checked out. A warm compress will probably not harm (it could if you have conjunctivitis and cross-contaminate yourself or others), which is why you can often use it alongside any prescription or over the counter medication. But it is always better to be safe than sorry and have things checked out.
Why Warm Compresses Work
Warmth is known to be soothing and healing for our body. It helps to relieve pain, increase circulation, relax spasms of the muscles, and help in wound healing. Warm and cold compresses are applied to various injuries because they help our body to restore itself. The same is true for eyes. If you do have an issue with your eye, there are two types of warm compresses you can use:
- Moist warmth, which you achieve by soaking a cloth in some warm water and applying it to the affected area. This is the best way to treat pain caused by muscles, which includes eye strain.
- Dry warmth, which is achieved through things like hot water bottles or heating pads wrapped in fabric. This means there is no moisture present, and only warmth.
Do not use a commercial heat pack on your eyes. They are quite large, bulky, and heavy and are therefore not comfortable on the eye. More worrying is the fact that the packs can leak, which means chemicals could enter your eye. This could have very serious consequences and should be classed as a medical emergency. As such, it is much better to simply avoid the packs altogether.
A warm compress is incredibly beneficial if you suffer from Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) or blepharitis. If you suffer from either of these conditions, debris and gunk will form on your eyelashes and in the corner of your eyes. By applying a warm compress, and particularly a moist one, you will be able to loosen the debris, enabling it to be easily removed. Sometimes, it crusts on so much that if you were to remove it by hand, you would actually pull out some of your eyelashes.
Warm compresses are also beneficial for dry eye syndrome (DES). People who suffer from DES either have insufficient tear production or, more commonly, the quality of their tears is sub-standard. More often than not, the tears do not contain enough lipids (the oily substance) to keep the eyes properly moisturized, cover the eye in full, and not drain away too soon. By applying a warm compress (dry or moist), you encourage the glands on your eyelids to produce more lipids, relieving the symptoms of DES.
Finally, people with a sty can also benefit from either a dry or moist warm compress. A sty is essentially a puss-filled sack on your eyelid that needs to drain away. When you apply a compress, blood flow to the affected area is increased, which in turn means the body is better able to heal itself. Additionally, the compress can provide relief from the pain associated with a sty.
How to Apply a Warm Compress
It is important that you create a compress that will benefit you, and that you apply it in such a way that you will find the greatest relief. The following steps are all you really need to get it right. Best of all, all you need to have is some warm water (sterile), and a clean cloth!
- Start by properly washing your hands, using an antibacterial soap and making sure that you get into all the crevices of your hands, including underneath your nails. This will stop bacteria from being deposited on the compress and entering your eyes.
- Grab a clean washcloth, preferably a new and soft one, and fold it into a rectangle shape.
- Fill a clean bowl with lukewarm tap water. Even better would be to bring water to the boil, which sterilizes it, and leaving it to cool down until it is lukewarm.
- Soak your washcloth in the water so that it is drenched through.
At this point, you can do two different things:
- Wring the washcloth out, lie down, and cover your eyes with it, leaving it there for around 15 minutes. This is a lovely way to relax and rest your eyes.
- Don’t wring the washcloth out, but press it against your closed eyes for about 10 seconds, put it back in the water, and repeat. You can do this for a total of around five minutes, which means you will have pressed the cloth against your eyes 20 times.
You can apply a warm compress as often as you like. However, the best time to do it is when you have just woken up, particularly if you have a buildup of gunk in your eyes, as it will help you to loosen it up for easy removal. Doing it just before you go to sleep is also a good habit, particularly as it will prepare your eyes to relax, and it will remove the gunk and debris you have built up during the day. If you have to use eye medication, you should make sure there is at least half an hour between applying the compress and applying the medication, so that it doesn’t get washed out of your eyes.
A Word of Caution
There are a few things you have to know about and do to get the most out of your compress:
- Try to make your environment as sterile as possible so you don’t cross contaminate anything. Wash your hands, use a clean bowl, and choose sterile water.
- If you have an infection in one eye, only apply the compress to that eye. If you apply it to both, the bacteria or virus that caused the infection will be able to get into the other eye.
- Make sure the water is lukewarm and not hot, as you could scald your eyes.
- Wash the compress after you have used it and don’t let it be used for anything else until you have done that.