Air pollution is problematic in several ways. It can have detrimental effects on the lungs, skin, eyes, and body in general, and few people would call a smog-obscured city pleasing to look at. It’s no surprise that the eyes are especially susceptible to the effects of low-quality air. Although the eyes are quite resilient in many ways, they’re also uniquely exposed and sensitive to irritants and pollutants. We all share the same air, so in polluted areas, we’re all exposed to the same risks.
The American Lung Association maintains lists of the most polluted cities in the United States, and the Atlanta area (referred to as “Atlanta-Athens-Clarke County-Sandy Springs, GA-AL”) is in the top 25 in two categories: ozone pollution (#25) and year-round particle pollution (#19). They estimate that 43.3% of Americans (141.1 million people) live in counties with unsafe levels of air pollution, and that number appears to be increasing. Infants, pregnant women, the elderly, and people who work outdoors are especially vulnerable in polluted areas—generally, the closer you are to a city, the more exposed you are to air pollution.
Asthma attacks, coughing, trouble breathing, wheezing, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and premature death are the main air-pollution-associated health risks identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but the dangers certainly don’t end there. According to the American Lung Association, multiple studies in various cities around the world have found that increased air pollution is correlated with more cases of dry eye, conjunctivitis (pink eye), and other eye infections and irritations. Dry eye is the most common and directly observed eye condition that results from air pollution, and this seemingly innocent ailment can make the eyes more susceptible to a variety of other health issues.
The only way to completely relieve the effects of air pollution is to avoid it, but of course, this is easier said than done for many people. Artificial tears can keep the eyes lubricated, which may help to avoid some of the eye-health problems associated with dry eyes. We also recommend cleaning your eyelids and eyelashes after spending time outdoors in a polluted area. While they can’t offer 100% protection, a pair of wraparound sunglasses may help keep some damaging materials out of your eyes, and there are other things that we can recommend based on your personal needs and preferences.
If you’re due for an eye exam, think you might be experiencing dry eyes or any of the above mentioned symptoms of air pollution exposure, or are interested in any of the many other services or products we offer, contact Georgia Eye Physicians & Surgeons> to schedule an appointment today. Be sure to follow Dr. William Segal and Dr. Marc Lay on Facebook and Twitter for more eyecare information, fun facts, and the latest news and updates about eye health.