The World Health Organization estimates that 90 percent of the world’s population breathes polluted air. According to a 2019 global assessment, air pollution may be affecting every organ in the human body. This is because inhaled particles circulate throughout the body, triggering inflammation. Air pollution is especially dangerous to the eye because it is a sensitive organ with a large, wet surface area that is exposed to the outside world. There is a wide range of reactions in the eyes to exposure to airborne contaminants, from no symptoms at all to severe inflammation and chronic pain. This sensitivity persists even when wearing contact lenses. Regular exposure to polluted air can lead to dry eye syndrome, watering and burning sensations, and blurred vision. So what causes these conditions that connect air pollution and eye problems, and how can we protect ourselves?
Air Pollution and Eye Problems Are Deeply Intertwined
According to scientists, because of their high blood flow, the eyes may be more susceptible to the harm produced by inhaled and subsequently circulated small particles.
Some of those particles are especially dominant in most studies that evaluate the connection between air pollution and eye problems – carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and sulfur dioxide (SO2).
These dangerous chemicals have been shown to irritate, redden, and water the eyes. Exposure to such pollution for up to four hours, especially in big, populated cities, causes substantial eye irritation.
The symptoms of eye irritation may vary, but the most common are:
- Sensations of burning and redness
- Allergy is characterized by extreme itching, redness, discharge, ocular swelling, and difficulty opening the eyes.
- Refractive problems and poor color vision
Dry Eye Syndrome
Dry eye syndrome (DES) is the most common condition caused by polluted air, twice as common in women over 50. In DES, the surface of the eye becomes irritated and dry, especially if the patient uses contact lenses. When NO2 levels rise, the risk of other eye problems appears, such as glaucoma.
If your tear production is inadequate, your eyes can get dry and irritated, causing DES to develop. Cities like Mumbai, New York, Bangladesh, and Los Angeles, which are full of vehicles and industrial plants producing hazardous substances, have a higher rate of people suffering from DES.
Some of the most common symptoms patients have noted mucus building around the eyes, redness, pain, sensitivity to light, wind, and smoke, and a general feeling of discomfort.
An increase in possibly harmful chemicals in the air may possibly be to blame for the surge in glaucoma incidence.
Polluted air, according to ophthalmologists, may contribute to glaucoma by constricting blood vessels, which ties into air pollution’s linkages to an increased risk of heart problems. Another explanation is that particles have a direct toxic effect, causing nerve damage and inflammation.
Scientists in the United Kingdom found that those living in densely populated areas had a 6 percent higher chance of acquiring glaucoma after having eye exams. Glaucoma prevalence is higher in urban than rural regions, with a 50% higher rate in the former.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Another global problem regarding air pollution and eye problems is definitely age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which causes harmful changes to the retina.
A big UK study has discovered that even modest exposure to PM2.5 particles increased the risk of AMD by 8%. In contrast, changes in exposure to PM10 particles and nitrogen dioxide were associated with a 12% increase in the risk of unfavorable retinal alterations.
Genetic predisposition and other physical health problems, like smoking and obesity, are the major causes of AMD. Although we can’t change genetics, we can change air pollution. Experts say it will become increasingly significant as people choose healthier lifestyles.
On hotter summer days, air pollution and eye problems are more present. The air is drier, making it easier for more hazardous particles to move around it. Likewise, basic symptoms of irritation may occur, but there are ways to manage them.
Without an infection or allergy present, treating the ocular symptoms of air pollution exposure is as simple as cleaning the eyes gently with clean water and using a cool compress.
Using lubricating eye drops and wearing sunglasses are also alternatives. You should avoid using contact lenses and makeup until the eyes completely heal.
Creating a Healthier Environment
China, the greatest producer of greenhouse gasses, is taking action to reduce air pollution by bolstering the electric vehicle industry and permitting subsidies for EV buyers.
A growing number of people are opting for electric buses, which now account for nearly all buses sold worldwide (over 400 000). The world’s largest solar facility went live two years ago in the remote region of Qinghai.
Europe’s Birmingham and Madrid are among the cities planning to introduce “clean air zones,” which will limit vehicle traffic in the downtown areas.
However, a lot more global-scale solutions are needed to ensure a great probability of permanently reducing life-shortening emissions and increasing eye health worldwide to prevent unnecessary illnesses that could permanently impair eyesight.