As post-Diwali air pollution continues to make news and raise concerns, it is important to safeguard ourselves from the side-effects of toxic pollutants that can cause respiratory disorders, lung cancer, brain or kidney damage, and heart disease in long run.
Higher levels of air pollution, in general, can lead to eye conditions like conjunctivitis, eye irritation, or dry eye. A dry eye is a condition where your eyes don’t produce enough tears to lubricate your eye.
“Effect of air pollution or eyes manifestation of air pollution can range from minimal symptoms to chronic discomfort and eye irritation. Common symptoms include itching, irritation, chronic discomfort, dry eye syndrome,” says Dr. Sheetal Ballal.
Symptoms are higher among contact lens wearers. Poor air quality can accelerate pre-existing dry eye disease, she says.
Apart from the above-mentioned eye conditions, high levels of air pollution can also increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration as the pollutants may enter the bloodstream and damage the small blood vessels within the eye. Studies also suggest that pollution can increase our risk of developing an eye condition called glaucoma that can cause blindness.
Can pollution lead to permanent loss of vision?
There have been instances when people have lost their eyes due to eye allergies, one of the conditions that occur due to air pollution.
“Pollutants are very common causes for eye allergies and dry eyes. Disruption of the protective atmospheric UV layer increases the risk of retinal damage (ARMD) and visual loss. One of my young patients, an 18-year-old girl lost one eye permanently. She had developed eye allergies. She had shifted to Mumbai from her hometown. We had asked her to use steroid eye drops for 1 week and to follow up but she self-medicated and came after 6 months with glaucoma and permanent loss of vision in one eye,” says Dr. Sandeep Kataria, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Wockhardt Hospital.
Moving away from the polluted environment can improve eye health and benefit people with eye allergies.
“I see patients’ eyes getting better when they go to their home town during summer vacations. That’s really powerful proof. I also saw a marked decrease in eye allergies during the covid lockdowns,” he adds.
Protecting eyes from air pollution
Dr. Kataria and Dr. Ballal suggest ways to protect your precious eyes from the harmful effects of pollution
- Simple home remedies like frequent cold eye compresses reduce symptoms of eye allergies.
- Switching to electric vehicles and solar energy are long-term solutions to avoid pollution in general.
- People wearing contact lenses should be more careful since they are more prone to develop additional eye problems.
- Wear good quality protective glasses to prevent pollutants from entering the eye.
- Avoid outdoors when pollution is at a high peak like early morning.
- Avoid contact lens use when air quality is poor washing hands frequently, avoiding rubbing eyes using lubricating eye drops as prescribed by the eye doctor.
- A detailed eye check is recommended in case there is constant eye irritation.