Air Pollution and Eye Health

Becky McCall’s recent article in Acuity magazine has looked at the latest research linking air pollution and eye health.

Undoubtedly a positive outcome of the COVID-19 lockdown was the drop in air pollution; a reduction of more than  50%  was recorded in major UK cities. Levels of pollution will inevitably rise as businesses open up and roads return to being clogged with traffic. A rise in air pollution will have an impact on health, including eye health.

Eye conditions that are associated with air pollution can be caused by the direct effect of particles on the surface of the eye (e.g. dry eye and conjunctivitis), or as an indirect effect of systemic disease caused by air pollution (e.g. cardiovascular and respiratory diseases).

Air pollution originates from many sources both indoors and outdoors. Typical sources of indoor pollution include candles, cleaning products, home heating systems, and cooking. Typical sources of outdoor pollution include emissions from  motor vehicles, agriculture and industry.

The following are some key ways in which to protect our eyes from air pollution:

  • Use protective eyewear or wrap around sunglasses to help prevent pollutants entering the eye.
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes.
  • When indoors, use good ventilation to combat air pollution.
  • Stay indoors when pollution levels are at their peak.
  • Apply a cool compress to relieve discomfort.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Lubricating eye drops may be helpful in preventing soreness or itching.
  • Contact lens wearers should remove their lenses at the first sign of eye irritation.

Air pollution is recognised as the top environmental risk to human health in the UK and there are government goals in place to reduce it.

To help reduce indoor air pollution, it might be worthwhile considering  modifying the use of scented candles or plug-in diffusers.