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How Pollution Affects Your Eye Health

How pollution affects your eye healthHuman eyes are sensitive and prone to irritations from allergies, chemicals, and pollutants in the air. Some people might notice their eyes are red and itchy on days air pollutants are high. The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a measure of how clean or polluted the air is. For Buffalo, NY , the combined average air quality for the area of Buffalo for the month of November is at 86.2% in good quality with 13.8% moderate quality. How much does that 13.8% of moderate air pollutants affect your eyes?

Air pollutants may create temporary eye irritations, but eyes normally clear up when the pollution reduces. However, people living in areas with high pollutants are three to four times more likely to develop an eye condition called dry eye syndrome. Dry eye syndrome occurs when there are insufficient tears to lubricate the eye. Dry eyes can be a chronic condition, but there are prescription treatments available to keep your eyes healthy and prevent your vision from being affected.

The best approach to treat dry eyes is to contact your eye care professional to help with adding tears, conserving tears, increasing tear production, and treating the inflammation of the eyelids or eye surface that may contribute to the dry eyes.

Other things that may help your dry eyes:

  • Installing a high-quality air filtration system
  • Have a humidifier in your home
  • Include foods for dry eyes in your diet like omega 3, antioxidants, water etc.

Pollutants in the air also may cause chemical conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye.  Treatment includes careful flushing of the eyes with saline and may require topical steroids.

Benzene levels in the air have been a hot topic for the community of west NY-Tonawanda. A four-year study of air monitoring since the conclusion of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (NYSDEC’s) Tonawanda Community Air Quality Study shows reductions in the ambient concentrations of benzene and other air pollutants within the Tonawanda community.

Thomas Gentile, Chief, Air Toxics Section with the Bureau of Air Quality Analysis & Research for the state of New York says, “There are other air contaminants, such as sulfur dioxide, formaldehyde, and acrolein that are associated with eye irritation at much lower concentrations than benzene. In addition, a complex mixture of air contaminants commonly referred to as smog can be associated with increased eye irritation.

Other ways to protect your eyes from air pollution:

  • If the air seems “hazy” from pollution, limit your time outdoors if possible.
  • When outdoors, protect your eyes with sunglasses, or clear safety glasses.
  • If you wear contact lenses, clean your lenses thoroughly to ensure your contacts are disinfected and any particles are removed.

If you have concerns about your eye health, or would like an eye health exam, call Fichte, Endl & Elmer Eyecare.


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