Can poor air quality affect your eyesight?

The below article talks about the effects of poor air quality on eyesight and what can be done to protect your eyes from long-term damage, along with some frequently asked questions about indoor air quality. 

Can poor air quality affect my eyesight and what do I do about it?

Yes, poor air quality can cause vision impediments and could lead to long-term damage to eyesight. Toxic airborne particles exposed to the eyes can cause short-term symptoms like itchiness, watering and burning sensations, headaches, etc. Ignoring these symptoms could lead to long-term damages including glaucoma or AMD causing permanent vision loss. Prevention is always better than cure and protecting your eyes from poor air quality could be done through the following steps:

  • Staying indoors during peak rush hours, during which the air quality would be poor.
  • Avoid wearing contact lenses in areas with poor air quality as this could further the irritation and inflammation in your eyes.
  • Washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your eyes to reduce the transmission of contaminants.
  • Using air purifiers indoors to improve indoor air quality and strip the air of toxic contaminants, therefore reducing the risk of exposure to contaminants or allergens. 
  • Consult a medical professional if there are prolonged symptoms to ensure that vision damage is kept at bay. 

Air Pollutants and Eyesight 

The decreasing air quality has been a hot topic for discussion around the world, due to which more studies are being conducted on the effects air pollution has on human health. Increasing levels of air pollution emanating from the increasing number of pollutants, toxic particles, and other contaminants give low air quality. The World Health Organization estimates that 91% of the world’s population lives in areas where levels of air quality exceed normal standards (Citroner G., n.d.). 

Our eyes are constantly exposed to open air, which means that it is constantly exposed to the pollutants that are present in the air. All of these pollutants can have short-term and long-term impacts on eye health. While there is no way to completely protect your eyes from the detrimental effects of air quality on eyesight, we can take protective measures and understand the risks associated with air pollution. The severity of discomfort in eye health caused by air pollution depends on the levels of air quality where you live and these varying levels can have different impacts on vision. 

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes 6 common air pollutants – ground-level ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead, and carbon monoxide (EPA, n.d.). Long-term exposure to these pollutants can cause eroding eye health that presents in the form of dry eye syndrome, watering or burning sensations in the eye, blurred vision, etc. (Hadley S., 2020) Various studies have also found out that long-term exposure to poor air quality can trigger glaucoma and Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) (Citroner G., n.d.) (Hadley S., 2020). 

Keep an eye out for 

Watering and burning sensation in the eye

Smoke contains carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, along with other irritating pollutants that cause inflammation and irritation to the eyes. This is why sometimes eyes water, in an effort to clean our eye surface of these irritating pollutants (LGO, 2021). Burning sensations in the eye can be due to exposure to nitric oxide, nitric dioxide, and sulphur dioxide; these toxic elements have been found to trigger intense redness, watering, and burning sensations. 

Dry Eye Syndrome

This refers to when eyes are not able to produce enough lubrication through tears to moisten your eyes and get rid of the irritating pollutants on the surface of your eye. Studies show that dry eye syndrome will increase in number across the world as air pollution keeps rising, and this could eventually lead to long-term impairments (Hadley S., 2020). Symptoms of dry eye syndrome include reddening of the eyes, soreness, headaches, sensitivity to light/ wind/ smoke, itchiness, and excess mucus forming around the eyeballs. 

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis resulting from poor air quality can be of two types – chemical conjunctivitis and allergic conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is caused due to the inflammation of the conjunctiva, an outer layer of the eyeball. 

Chemical conjunctivitis is an increasing phenomenon amongst citizens in urban areas due to the increased exposure to toxic fumes, smoke, etc. 

Allergic conjunctivitis is triggered by airborne particles like pollen or mold spores, that cause an allergic reaction to the eye. Symptoms include swelling, impeded vision, eye soreness, or pain. 

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

A study conducted by the British Journal of Opthalmology found that air pollution significantly increases the odds of developing AMD. While AMD is an age-related condition, it has been found that long-term exposure to poor air quality can trigger the early onset of the disease. AMD has been found to be the 3rd leading cause of vision loss amongst individuals over 50 years of age (healthline, n.d.). Advanced stages of AMD presents as loss of central vision leading to severe long-term or permanent vision loss. AMD can be classified as being dry or wet, and the study has found out that there is more severe vision loss associated with wet AMD. 

While age and genetic factors still have a major stake in the trigger of AMD, we are no longer able to ignore that it can be triggered by environmental factors as well. 

Glaucoma

Glaucoma refers to a combination of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve, which determines eye health and eyesight. While glaucoma is usually instigated due to lifestyle behaviors and changes in pressure due to fluid buildup within your eye, a study conducted by UK researchers found that citizens from urban areas were 50% more likely to be diagnosed with glaucoma, and air pollution has been found to be one of the biggest contributors to this. This could be due to the fact that air pollutants can cause the constriction of blood vessels, leading to damaged neuro systems and increased inflammation. 

It was also observed that participants in the study had thinner retinas, which is a sign of glaucoma progression (Hadley S., 2020). Glaucoma has been found to contribute to irreversible blindness in at least 60 million people worldwide. 

Protecting your eyes

Eyes are prime entry portals for toxic airborne particles, contaminants, or viruses. Therefore, it is imperative to take measures to protect your eye health. Some measures you could take include:

  1. Whenever possible try to stay indoors, especially if outdoor air quality is poor. Poor air quality is usually at its peak in the morning, therefore, it is best to stay indoors during the peak rush hours to reduce exposure to airborne contaminants. 
  2. Wear protective eyeglasses or sunglasses when you go out. This will keep the dust and contaminants at bay and reduce the eye’s exposure to pollutants.
  3. Avoid wearing contact lenses, especially in areas with poor air quality. Contact lenses exacerbate eye dryness and can lead to increased inflammation and irritation. 
  4. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes. Washing your hands will ensure that there is a minimum transfer of pollutant particles and reduce the risk of eye irritations. Avoid rubbing your eyes vigorously, as this could increase inflammation as well as cause tears on your eye surface.
  5. Protecting your eyes from poor indoor air quality can be managed by installing air purifiers. They would scrub out the toxic particles in the air and produce clean and freshened air. 
  6. If you do experience eye dryness or irritation, do consult an ophthalmologist to acquire lubricating eye drops. These drops will moisturize your eyes and protect them from harmful particles. 
  7. Any inflammation or irritation could be reduced with the help of a cool compress and a quick wash. If irritation persists and any other symptoms emerge, it is best to consult a doctor for further help. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Does poor air quality affect my eyesight?

Does wearing a contact lens protect my eyes from toxic air pollutants? 

No, wearing contact lenses increases the risk of eye irritation as they already cause dry eyes. This leads to increased discomfort, irritation, or conjunctivitis from pollutants from the air. 

What air purifier will be best suited to improve indoor air quality?

A good air purifier can improve life quality by stripping the air of allergens such as pollen, mold spores, smoke particles, airborne contaminants, dander, etc. However installing a good air purifier requires that it meets several criteria including being budget-friendly, child-friendly, energy-efficient, effective, and silent. Below are a few recommendations on air purifiers that could suit your needs:

  1. Coway AP – 1512HH is an indoor air purifier with air quality monitoring, automatic timers and sensors, filter indicators, and an energy-efficient mode. It is effective in rooms up to 361 sq. feet and has a 4 stage filtration system. It works quietly, is budget-friendly, and provides real-time indication of the air quality through LED lights amongst other interesting features. 
  2. Blueair Blue Pure 211+ is 3 stage filtration indoor air purifier. Suitable for larger rooms up to 540 sq. feet and is quiet due to the advanced filters that perform at high levels of efficiency with lower noise. This purifier is ideal for large bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms, and offices. All filters are recyclable and need to be replaced periodically depending on usage. 
  3. LEVOIT Air Purifier is an affordable large room air purifier with a True HEPA filter and a 360° air intake. It can be controlled through an app for a truly hands-free experience. With a capacity to clean up to 403 sq. feet, it gives the cleanest air possible by getting rid of dust, fur, lint, airborne contaminants, etc. It is capable of measuring air quality, providing real-time readings, and can automatically control the fan speeds to meet the needs of the room. Smart control of the purifier allows for remote control of the device and can provide alerts about the device efficiency, filter life, ability to create schedules, etc. 

Are vision impediments caused by air pollution reversible?

Most of the underlying symptoms are treatable with lubricating eye drops or other prescribed medication from a doctor. However, the long-term exposure to toxic levels of air quality without taking preventative measures could lead to irreversible vision and neuro system impairments. 

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

Does wearing a mask help during poor air quality?

How accurate is BreezoMeter?

150 AQI: Good or Bad?

References 

Citroner G. (n.d.). Common cause of vision loss linked to air pollution – What to know. Health News. healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/common-cause-of-vision-loss-linked-to-air-pollution-what-to-know-emb-330pm 

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (n.d.). Criteria Air Pollutants. United States Government.https://www.epa.gov/criteria-air-pollutants  

Hadley S. (2020, December 21). Air Pollution is causing Permanent Damage to eye health. Earth.org.https://earth.org/air-pollution-causing-damage-to-eye-health/ 

Looking Glass Optical (LGO). (2021, March 10). How does air quality affect your eye health? https://www.lookingglassoptical.com/how-does-air-quality-affect-your-eye-health/ 

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