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Posted on Mon. Jan. 07, 2013 - 12:01 am EDT

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You Docs: What causes eyes to water in cold weather?

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Q: Every time I go outside in cold weather, my eyes tear a lot. What causes it, and can I stop it? — Andy K., Chicago

A: Tearing up in cold weather is common and can be triggered by a number of things. The No. 1 trigger is dry eyes, since cold wind increases evaporation of moisture from the top layer of your cornea, exaggerating problems with dryness you may have already. When that happens, your brain sends a message — “Dry Alert!” — and orders your tear glands to juice up. If this is what's happening with you, the first solution is to wear protective glasses or goggles to keep the wind from drying your eyes. If glasses don't do the trick, you can try using saline eye drops right before you go outside. Then refresh periodically while you're in the cold air. Also, use a humidifier inside, and blink more to refresh your tears.

What triggers dry eye in the first place? Here are some possible causes. Have you started taking decongestants because of a cold or indoor allergies? Decongestants dry you up. Are you exposed to airborne or contact allergens? If yes, try an over-the-counter antihistamine eye drop, and stop letting the cat sleep on or near your bed! Are you regularly exposed to smoke, yours or secondhand? Either quit (if you smoke) or exit that environment, pronto! Two more possibilities: Excess tearing could be from an autoimmune condition that attacks your tear-producing glands. The remedy is a prescription eye drop, sometimes with an immune-suppressing ingredient or a steroid. Or it could be from an infection, such as conjunctivitis; that'll require medication for relief.

Give the home remedies a try first. But if they don't work, or if you also have red or sore eyes, any kind of discharge around the rims of your eyes, or you also have dry mouth or unusual joint pain, go see your doctor ASAP.

Q: I read that there may be a flu vaccine that can last a lifetime. Is that possible, and why do some vaccines need boosters? — Maxine R., Tulsa, Okla.

A: All vaccines are not created equal, but neither are the infections they prevent.

Right now, you need a flu vaccine every year because there are many strains of the influenza virus, plus they can mutate slightly from year to year, which changes how the vaccine needs to work. A flurry of new discoveries about novel ways to kill off the flu virus have scientists talking about a “once in a lifetime” vaccine. It may work by targeting parts of the virus that do not change from year to year. But we don’t have it yet, so get that annual flu shot!

Poliovirus, in contrast, doesn’t change significantly from year to year. A four-shot series of vaccinations before age 6 should last a lifetime (although if you live long enough, you may need a booster).

As a child, you get a vaccine for DTaP — diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. As an adult, you need the booster called Tdap — tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis; and then a Td booster every 10 years.

Some vaccines you get only as an adult: Folks 60-plus (we think it should be 50 and up) can get a one-time shingles vaccine; those 50+ can get a pneumonia shot. That’s what we did.

Even though some people might experience side effects from some vaccines, the benefits far, far exceed the risks. Vaccinations are important for your health and for the health of those around you. Make sure yours are up to date.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Submit your health questions at www.doctoroz.com.


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