Air pollution can affect our health on many levels, from aggravating respiratory diseases to developing asthma, emphysema, and possibly cancer. People who work or exercise vigorously outdoors, children, sick adults, and the elderly may be most susceptible to severe health problems from air pollution. Poor air quality may impair your vision and negatively impact your eye health.
What is air pollution? Air can be polluted with a mixture of organic and inorganic particles called particulate matter. It includes dust, smoke, pollen, soot, and liquid droplets. Many of these particles are hazardous and can have long-term, negative effects on your health. This includes the health of your eyes.
Health Impacts of Air Pollution
When we think about air pollution, we most often think about outdoor air quality. That said, indoor air pollution also causes short-term and long-term health issues.
The World Health Organization lists the most common and serious health impacts associated with household air pollution:
- Acute lower respiratory infections
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Lung cancer
- Cardiovascular disease
- Physical injury from fuel collections
- Other adverse health outcomes
How does air pollution affect your eyes?
Your eyes are vulnerable to air pollution. Unlike cardiovascular and respiratory systems that can be partially protected by specialized face masks, your eyes are usually left on their own against the harmful particles in the environment.
Unfortunately, the ocular effects often overlooked by optometrists during examination. You may experience a range of detrimental eye conditions from short-term minimal or no-symptoms to chronic eye irritation and discomfort.
Visit your local optometrist to treat your condition. They will be able to provide you with the most suitable options for vision correction.
What are the most common conditions caused by air pollution?
Air pollution is the cause of many common eye conditions. These conditions include:
- Excessive tearing
- Eye discomfort
- Burning sensation
- Itching sensation
- Eye pain
- Eye redness
- Puffy eyes
- Dry eyes
- Eye allergy
Can air pollution cause cataracts?
While most cataracts develop with aging or after an eye injury, household air pollution is strongly linked to cataract formation and may be responsible for up to one quarter of all cataracts, according to epidemiological studies.
A cataract is a clouding in the eye’s lens that makes it difficult or impossible for light to pass through to the retina. As a result, your vision becomes blurry and it may interfere with your everyday activities. Fortunately, there are actions you can take to treat and even prevent cataracts before they occur. Learn about more cataract prevention and treatment.
Can bad air quality make your eyes red?
Some people may get red and itchy eyes when air quality is poor. More polluted the air, the more it can irritate your eyes and cause inflammation. Fortunately, the symptoms usually clear up when the air becomes cleaner.
Artificial tears and eye drops generally help relieve the redness caused by air pollution. Check with your eye doctor if it is a safe option for you. Your eye care provider may also prescribe you a treatment to treat any possible underlying problems.
What about eye allergies?
If you have eye allergies, bad air quality may aggravate your condition. Wearing sunglasses while outside and installing a good air filtering system at home will typically help alleviate the effects of air pollution.
Can air pollution cause problems with my eyes if I wear contacts?
If you wear contact lenses, your eyes may be at higher risk of suffering from air pollution. Dry eye syndrome affects millions of contact lens wearers. It also aggravates the effects on your eyes from pollutants particles.
If pollutant particles get stuck on the surface of your contact lenses, they can irritate the inside of your eyelids, cause blurry vision, or scratch your cornea. The particles can also get under your contact lenses and scratch or irritate your eyes, leaving you with eye pain, redness, itchiness, tearing, and a headache. If left untreated, it can lead to serious eye health issues.
How can you protect your eyes from air pollution?
The good news is you can help protect your eyes from air pollution indoors and outdoors.
- Install a good air filter system at home
- Have an adequate capacity humidifier in the office and at home
- Consume foods that help with keeping your eyes healthy and moist (water, omega 3, etc.)
- Limit your time outdoors when the air is “hazy”
- Wear sunglasses or clear safety glasses outdoors to minimize your eyes’ exposure to particulate pollution
- Clean your contacts thoroughly every night to remove any pollutants from them and store them at least 6 hours in a saline solution overnight, if you wear contact lenses
- Consider using eye drops to keep your eyes moist as needed
Contact your eye care professional to help deal with any related eye health issues, like dry eyes, inflammation of the eyelids, and other symptoms that cause you discomfort.