Eye Care

Pollution and Eye Disease

Pollution and Eye Disease - Irritation, Burning Sensation, Dryness and Allergy

Dr Somasheila Murthy, Head of Service, Corneal Diseases, Consultant, Uvea Service, L V Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad

As the dry winter days have arrived, followed by a hot summer, the incidence of eye problems like dryness, burning sensation, watering, redness and allergic conditions increase. This is more evident in urban areas.

In 1970 an incident happened at the playground of a certain senior high school in Tokyo. Some 40 female students suddenly complained of slight difficulty in breathing, dizziness and irritation of their eyes and throats. At the hospital examination, it was ascertained that this incident was caused by photochemical pollution. Los Angeles experienced similar problem in 1950, when the exhaust gas emitted by automobiles reacted with sunlight, causing irritation of the eye and even the cracking of tires. These incidents prove the danger of air pollutants on the human body.

The major air pollutants in any big city are

  • Carbon monoxide: It is emitted from automobiles and air conditioners, heaters. It is the biggest source of air pollution.
  • Nitrogen dioxide: It is emitted from cars and factories. It causes severe allergic reaction and also acid rain of mixing with water vapor.
  • Particulate matter: Coarse and fine particles in atmosphere cause irritation and allergic symptoms in human body.
  • Sulphur dioxide: It has a rotten egg smell and mainly comes from industries. It causes smog reducing visibility and is a very strong irritant for skin, eyes and breathing.
  • Other pollutants: Asbestos, arsenic, benzene, lead, dioxin etc are other sources of air pollution today. Chlorofluorocarbons, halons etc cause reduction in protective ozone layer in atmosphere causing eye and skin chronic irritation and even risk of cancer.

Effects of air pollution on eyes

There is a spectrum of symptoms occurring due to air pollution. It may range from simple irritation and burning to severe allergy, cataract and even cancer. The most common problems are-

  • Redness
  • Burning sensation
  • Watering
  • Ropy discharge
  • Itching sensation
  • Dry, gritty sensation
  • Difficulty in vision due to watering and itching
  • Allergic reaction: Severe itching, redness, discharge, eyelid swelling, inability to open eyes, vision problem and risk of infection (conjunctivitis, ulcers).

People with outdoor activities, school going children are more affected by these symptoms.

Management of eye symptoms

The golden rule in case of eye irritation is to avoid vigorous eye rubbing so as to prevent increased allergy and chance of contacting infection.

Few helpful tips include -

  • Cool compress to closed eyes
  • Frequent use of lubricating eye drops given by eye specialists
  • Sunglasses outdoors
  • Avoid direct splashing of water to open eyes
  • Avoid contact lens and eye makeup if eyes are feeling sore.