Seeing Through the Haze

Eyes are remarkably sensitive and susceptible to a plethora of irritants – from allergies to pollution. Learn how to protect your vision in the face of this growing environmental concern.…
By Dr Mahipal S Sachdev

Our eyes, the windows to the world, are exceptionally sensitive and vulnerable to a wide array of irritants, including allergies, chemicals, and the invisible assailant – airborne pollutants. On high-pollution days, you may have noticed your eyes becoming red, itchy, or teary, but the broader implications of air pollution on our visual health often go unnoticed. Let’s delve into the multifaceted effects of air pollution on our eyes and gain a clear perspective on how to effectively safeguard your vision in the face of this growing environmental concern. From recognizing the telltale signs of eye discomfort to offering guidance on staying indoors during peak pollution levels and managing contact lenses, we’ve got you covered.

While air pollution has become an omnipresent issue in both indoor and outdoor environments, its potential impact on our eyes is an aspect that is frequently overlooked. In fact, air pollution can induce a wide spectrum of symptoms, ranging from minor irritations to more severe complications, such as allergies and even cataracts.

Recognising the Telltale Signs
The symptoms of eye discomfort caused by air pollution can manifest in a variety of ways. These may include redness, a persistent burning sensation, watery eyes, an irritating itch, a dry and gritty feeling, and even visual impairment due to excessive tearing and itching. Intriguingly, even if you diligently wear a face mask to shield yourself from particulate matter, your eyes are left vulnerable to airborne pollutants. Extensive research has shown that in regions with high levels of air pollution, individuals are at a 3 to 4-fold increased risk of being diagnosed with dry eye syndrome.

Safeguarding Your Vision
In response to the ever-present menace of air pollution, here is a set of practical and actionable tips to preserve the health of your eyes:

1) Stay Indoors When Pollution Peaks: When air quality takes a nosedive, it is prudent to limit your outdoor exposure. Don a pair of protective spectacles and masks when necessary. If it is absolutely necessary for you to go outside, wear sunglasses, particularly the wrap-around styles, as an effective shield against eye pollutants.

2) Managing Contact Lenses: For those who wear contact lenses, maintaining vigilance is paramount. Ensure you use lubricating eye drops as needed, and meticulously clean and disinfect your lenses with an appropriate solution each time you wear or remove them. In regions with high pollution levels, consider adding protective eyewear over your contact lenses as an extra layer of defence. If you experience any discomfort or a sensation of a foreign body in your eye while wearing contact lenses, remove them promptly, rinse your eyes with lubricating eye drops, and ensure thorough lens cleaning before reinsertion. In case your eyes feel sore, it might be prudent to temporarily avoid wearing contact lenses and eye makeup.

3) Dealing with Pollutant Contact: In the unfortunate event that your eyes come into direct contact with pollutants, it is essential to resist the urge to rub your eyes, even if you suspect fine particulates have entered. Instead, rinse your eyes gently with water and apply a cool compress to alleviate irritation. Follow your eye doctor’s guidance and use prescribed lubricating eye drops to prevent soreness or itching.

Final Takeaways
In your quest for clearer vision and a healthier outlook, it is crucial to acknowledge the pervasive threats posed by air pollution to your eyes. By diligently adhering to the tips provided, you can significantly reduce discomfort and effectively shield your vision from the relentless challenges posed by environmental pollutants. Do not let your eyes bear the brunt of this invisible foe; instead, safeguard them, ensuring they remain the clear, vibrant windows to the world they are meant to be, enabling you to savour the beauty of the world as it is meant to be.

(The author is Chairman & Medical Director, Centre for Sight Group of Eye Hospitals, New Delhi)

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