Do not overlook the effects of air pollutants on your eyes in both indoor and outdoor environments
Dr Mahipal S Sachdev
Human eyes are sensitive and prone to irritation from allergies, chemicals and pollutants in the air. Some people might notice their eyes are red and itchy on days air pollution is high. Manifestations of air pollution can range from minimal or no symptoms to a chronic discomfort and irritation in the eyes. There may also be specific situations, in contact lens wearers for example, where the eyes may be adversely affected by air pollution. Despite the presence of air pollution in many indoor and outdoor environments, its effects on our eyes are often overlooked by us. The information below will help us understand the effects of air pollution on eyes and what can be done to mitigate the problems.
There are a number of symptoms which occur due to air pollution. It may range from simple irritation and burning to a severe allergy and cataract. The most commonly experienced problems are – redness, burning sensation, watering, ropy discharge, itching sensation, dry & gritty sensation, difficulty in vision due to watering and itching etc. While wearing face masks may help minimize inhalation of particulate matter, the eyes remain exposed to airborne pollution. Studies have found that in areas where air pollution is high, people were more likely to report eye related discomfort and are 3 to 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with dry eye. Now that we understand how these air pollutants can affect the eyes, here are few tips for certain scenarios which can save you from the unnecessary suffering.
1) Stay indoors when pollution levels are at their peak
If there is excessive particulate matter in the air, limit your exposure to outdoors and wherever possible, protect your eyes with spectacles and/or masks. If it is absolutely necessary for you to go outside, wear sunglasses (wrap-around styles are best) to prevent pollutants entering your eyes.
2) What to do while using Eye Contacts
If wearing contact lenses, use lubricating eye drops as needed and ensure that you clean and disinfect your lenses thoroughly with lens solution each time you wear or remove them. Protective glasses over contact lenses may be useful if the air contaminant levels are high. If there is any irritation and/or foreign body sensation with contact lenses, remove them immediately and rinse your eyes with lubricant eye drops. Clean lenses thoroughly prior to reinserting. Avoid wearing contact lens and eye makeup if your eyes are feeling sore.
3) If pollutants made contact with the eyes
Avoid rubbing your eyes directly even if fine particulates have entered the eyes. Wash your eyes with water and apply a cool compress to help reduce irritation. Furthermore, use lubricating eye drops given by eye doctor. Lubricating eye drops help prevent soreness or itching.
If you experience highly dry and irritated eyes due to pollution, visit your ophthalmologist for a quick diagnosis and recommended course of treatment, and follow the tips given above to reduce the issues regarding the health of eyes. With a little help, you can reduce your eyes’ irritation and have a clear vision to enjoy the world as it should be
(The author is Chairman & Medical Director, Centre for Sight Group of Eye Hospitals, New Delhi)