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Warm compresses are a time-honored, go-to treatment for a number of eye-related issues. Warm compresses can be used for conditions varying from styes to dry eye and beyond. Here's what you need to know to get the most from this helpful home remedy.
While you may intuitively know what a hot compress is, by definition this involves a pad or piece of flannel or gauze that is dipped in hot water or saline.
For warm compresses on most parts of the body, the temperature of the water should range between 107 degrees and 115 degrees Fahrenheit. After wringing out, the compress is then placed against the body to promote pain relief, to drain an abscess, or for muscle relaxation.
For around the delicate area of the eye, however, you have to be careful not to make the compress too warm. The last thing you want to do is to injure the ocular surface. In this case, you want to limit the amount of heat to just 104 degrees.
Types of Warm Compresses
Warm compresses for eye problems are a way of strategically applying heat to the area. This can be either dry or wet heat. The two different types of compresses are:
- Dry heat doesn't involve any moisture on the skin. You can use a heating pad, or a hot-water bottle. With either method, it's advisable to place a piece of cloth between the item and your skin.
- Moist heat uses warm water. This usually involves first soaking a washcloth or towel in warm water and then squeezing out the excess before placing it over or near your eyes.
Warm eye compresses can be used for a number of maladies. These can include the following:
- Dry eye from meibomian gland disease: In this condition, the tiny glands along the edges of the eyelids are unable to provide good quality oil needed for the tear film that protects the eye.
- Styes or chalazion: These are two types of painful bumps on your eyelid or lash line.
- Pink eye: Also called conjunctivitis, it is inflammation or infection of the membrane covering the white of your eye.
How Warm Compresses Work
Warming the eye with the compress can help to bring more circulation to the area. It can also help relieve muscle spasms and pain.
For those with dry eyes, the heat from the compress can improve oil gland function by helping to open the meibomian glands. The improvement in oil flow can in turn slow down tear evaporation and stabilize the tear film.
Depending on what you need the warm eye compress for, the compress can be very straightforward to prepare. The process takes just a few minutes.
One tried-and-true method involves using a large bowl or water basin. With this method you should:
- Fill the receptacle with warm water. Make sure that the water is warm but not hot enough to burn the delicate skin around the eye.
- Place a clean towel or cloth into the warm water and allow the material to soak it up.
- Lift the towel out of the bowl and wring it out until it no longer drips.
- Fold the towel, and drape it over your eyes for up to 10 minutes.
Another possibility is to heat a couple of moist towels in the microwave. With this method do the following:
- Run two towels under the faucet. Then, wring each of them out.
- Fold one of the towels and place it in an open ziplock bag.
- Put the open bag into the microwave on high for two minutes.
- Using care not to burn yourself, take the bag from the microwave and zip it closed.
- Take the other moist towel and wrap it around the hot bag.
- Use the compress on your eyes for up to 10 minutes.
For conditions such as meibomian gland dysfunction that require keeping the warm compresses at a steady level of warmth for as long as possible, a technique known as the "bundle method" can be used. This technique also makes use of the microwave. Here's how it works:
- Take five or six microfiber towels and run them under water. Then wring out any excess.
- Fold each of the towels into a long rectangular shape.
- Stack one towel on top of the first and roll these into a tight cylinder. Then wrap a third towel around the first two. Continue doing this with each remaining towel.
- Take this bundle and put it in a nonmetal container in the microwave and cover it. Heat the bundle for 1 minute and 50 seconds. Depending on the power of your microwave, you may want to adjust this time. The idea is to make it as warm as possible without causing discomfort.
- With the lid sealed, give the towels one to two minutes to cool before using.
- Peel the outermost towel off the bundle and seal the rest back in the container before placing this towel on your eyes.
- After two minutes, remove the compress from your lids and replace it with the next heated towel from the bundle, while keeping the rest sealed in the container.
- Continue this process until the last warm towel is used.
Who Can Use a Compress?
Use of warm compresses is a home remedy that is accessible to anyone. This is something that you can fairly easily do yourself at your own convenience. If you are unsure about the process or whether it should be used for your condition, discuss it with your healthcare professional.
How you fare with a warm eye compress depends on just what you are using this for and how severe your condition is at the outset. Some people may only need to use this a few times, while others may need to make this a daily regimen for a while.
If you have dry eye from meibomian gland disease, the warm compress can help to open up the glands, which can in turn release more oil into the eye. This improves the tear film by slowing evaporation and stabilizing it.
It is recommended that warm compresses be applied daily. They can be used alone or in combination with other dry eye remedies, such as artificial tears, gels, or ointments. The compresses can also soothe the eyes and keep them healthy.
Styes or Chalazion
If you have a stye along your lash line, the idea of using these warm compresses is to allow it to rupture naturally to drain the pus. It's important that this be allowed to happen on its own without your squeezing it.
Likewise, if you have a chalazion caused by a blocked oil gland on your lid, the warm compress can help unclog the gland by loosening any material blocking it, allowing it to drain.
It usually only takes a few days for styes or chalazion to begin to shrink. If after three or four weeks they persist, contact your doctor to prescribe other treatments.
If you have pink eye, otherwise known as conjunctivitis, your healthcare provider may suggest that you use a warm compress three or four times a day, possibly along with other treatments, such as medication. This can help clear any discharge building up on the eyelids.
Keep in mind that you should use separate compresses for each of your eyes to lower the risk of spreading the infection from one to the other.
Avoid using commercial warm compresses. Not only are these heavy on the eyes but, potentially, they can leach chemicals into your eyes.
Also, while you want the compress to be warm, never put anything that feels too hot near your eye. If this feels at all painful, remove the mask immediately. The last thing you want to do is to injure the ocular surface.
A warm eye compress is a home remedy that can help for conditions such as styes, dry eye, and pink eye. Such warm compresses can bring more circulation to the area and help to soothe pain.
Making a warm compress is something that anyone can do. There are different approaches to try, ranging from simply dipping a cloth in a bowl of warm water to rolling up a bundle and heating it in the microwave.
A Word From Verywell
A warm compress is something you can have at the ready if you have an occasional issue with your eyes. This can provide relief in many instances and may be just what you need. But if you find you aren't improving as you should, be sure to promptly contact your healthcare provider for assistance.