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How Air Pollution Can Cause Eye Irritation

By Dr. Sanjay Dhawan in Eye Care / Ophthalmology

Nov 05 , 2023 | 3 min read

Air pollution, particularly in urban areas, often contains various airborne particles and chemicals that can irritate the eyes. Particulate matter, such as tiny dust particles, can physically irritate the eyes and lead to symptoms like itching, burning, and redness. Chemical pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds can also trigger eye irritation. Additionally, air pollution can exacerbate allergies, leading to symptoms like watery eyes. To manage this irritation, it's essential to protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses and using lubricating eye drops (artificial tears) to provide relief.

Eye diseases caused by air pollution

Prolonged exposure to air pollution can contribute to the development of eye diseases. One common condition is conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, which results from the inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear membrane covering the white part of the eye. Air pollution can introduce allergens and irritants that trigger pink eye. Additionally, ocular surface diseases, including conditions like dry eye syndrome, may worsen due to the presence of airborne pollutants. It's important to recognise these long-term consequences and consult with an eye specialist for appropriate treatment and management.

Protecting your eyes from air pollution

To protect your eyes from the harmful effects of air pollution, consider the following measures:

Wear protective eyewear: Sunglasses that provide full UV protection and wrap around the eyes can block harmful UV rays and airborne particles.

Use air purifiers indoors: Installing air purifiers at home provides a clean environment for your eyes.

Avoid peak pollution hours: If possible, stay indoors during peak pollution hours when pollution levels are highest.

Eye care in a polluted environment

If you live in an area with high levels of air pollution, regular eye check-ups become essential. Eye specialists can monitor your eye health, identify early signs of pollution-related issues, and provide appropriate guidance. Following expert advice, such as using lubricating eye drops or protective eyewear, is crucial to ensure your eyes remain healthy.

Specific eye problems related to air pollution

Common eye problems related to air pollution include

Red eye: Air pollution can cause blood vessels in the eyes to dilate, resulting in redness. Allergens and irritants in the air can trigger conjunctivitis, leading to symptoms like redness, itching, and discharge.

Dry eye syndrome: Air pollution can exacerbate dry eye symptoms, causing discomfort, stinging, and blurred vision.

Itchy eyes: Allergens in the air can trigger itching and discomfort in the eyes.

Eye drops for air pollution-induced irritation

Using eye drops can provide relief from pollution-induced eye irritation. There are various types of eye drops, including:

Artificial tears: These lubricating eye drops can soothe dryness and irritation.

Antihistamine Drops: These are helpful if allergies are exacerbating your eye symptoms. It's important to use these drops as directed and consult with an eye specialist if symptoms persist.

Weather and its impact on dry eye

Changes in weather can significantly affect the severity of dry eye symptoms. For example, low humidity, common in dry and cold weather, can worsen dry eye symptoms. In such conditions, using humidifiers and using lubricating eye drops more frequently can help manage the discomfort.

Air pollution and ocular surface dysfunction

Ocular surface dysfunction is a severe eye condition that can result from long-term exposure to air pollution. It includes chronic dry eye and discomfort, and it often requires specialiseds treatment and management. Protective eyewear, especially in high-pollution areas, can be beneficial in reducing the risk of ocular surface dysfunction.

Air pollution has evolved over time due to factors such as industrialisation, urbanisation, and increased vehicular traffic. As air quality deteriorates, the risk to eye health increases.

FAQs

Can air pollution cause eye problems?
Yes, prolonged exposure to air pollution can lead to a range of eye problems, including irritation, dryness, redness, and more severe conditions.

Can air pollution cause red eyes?
Yes, air pollution can cause red eyes. Irritants in the air can lead to eye redness and discomfort.

How do you protect your eyes from air pollution?
To protect your eyes from air pollution, you can wear sunglasses, avoid outdoor activities on high-pollution days, use artificial tears, and maintain good eye hygiene.

Can eye drops be used for pollution?
Eye drops help relieve discomfort and redness.