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Hot or Cold?

It is allergy season so the question arises “Which should I use to provide some relief for my puffy, itchy eyes – a warm compress or a cold compress?”

While either one may provide some relief from allergy eyes, here are some guidelines on the most effective ways to use heat or cold on the eyes.

Heat increases blood flow, speeds up our immune response system, and softens up debris on the lids or in the tear glands.  That means warm compresses are preferred for:

  • Stye (hordeolum)
  • Crust or mucous around the eyelashes (blepharitis)
  • Infectious conjunctivitis (bacterial “pink eye”)
  • Dry eyes


Cold reduces blood flow, swelling, and immune response so it is preferable for:

  • Allergy eyes
  • Trauma or injury
  • Itching and/or pain

Either type of compress is usually used in conjunction with other types of treatment, such as prescription eye drops to treat the patient’s condition.  Be sure to come in for a professional evaluation for any eye or eyelid problem that is painful, lasts more than a day or two, or seems to be worsening even after the proper use of a compress.



How to Properly Use a Compress

It is relatively easy to make a cold compress for use around the eyes.  Wrapping a clean dishtowel around an ice bag is adequate.   Compresses should be applied for ten minutes at a time as often as every hour.  Cold compresses should be used as soon as possible after injury to reduce swelling and bruising.

It is more difficult to make an effective homemade warm compress.  The old method of using a hot wet washcloth doesn’t stay warm long enough and introduces concerns about hygiene.  Commercially available “eye heat masks” have the advantage of safely and conveniently providing consistent moist heat for ten minutes or longer.  Warm compresses should be applied for ten to fifteen minutes at a time, once or twice a day for dry eyes and often as four times a day for styes or blepharitis.

At the Eyecare Center of Leesburg we currently sell the Bruder Mask which is ready to use after just seconds in the microwave.  Our research finds it is simpler and less expensive than competitive products and our patients love them! Stop by any time to learn more about Bruder Mask or to pick one up.

Disclaimer:  This article is intended for information purposes only and is not a substitute for consultation or treatment by an eye care professional.


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