How Air Pollution Impacts Your Eyes

March 19th, 2020
air pollution eye health

Air pollution in both urban and rural areas can lead to eye irritation, and even chronic conditions.  

Just because pollution may not be visible, doesn’t mean it isn’t present. Your eyes are constantly exposed to the open air and all the harmful particles in the atmosphere. In urban and rural areas alike, contact with harmful particles can chronically dry out and irritate your eyes, and researchers have speculated about a link between air pollution and more serious eye diseases, like glaucoma.

In our increasingly polluted environment, it’s important to be aware of potential sources of eye irritation in the atmosphere. Read on to learn about common forms of pollution, and how to keep your eyes healthy. 

What Causes Eye Irritation?

Where you live in the United States has a unique effect on your exposure to air pollution. In the Sunbelt, for example, forest fires are a more prominent cause of irritation than in the industrial Northeast. Here are some of the common ways in which air pollution can irritate your eyes, with special attention to the pollutants you might face in the East Valley. 

Air pollution can still impact your eyes if you don’t live in a heavily polluted area. Car and industrial emissions are more common in the city, but these harmful particles can make their way to the countryside, too. Likewise, pollution more common in rural areas, such as forest fires, can impact urban residents. 

Urban pollutants. Pollution emitted by our machines and appliances — vehicles, air conditioners, and factory machinery — can irritate your eyes when you live in a metro area. Soot and other particulates from fossil fuel combustion are especially notable in urban areas. Harmful particles from pollutants can lead to chronically dry and itchy eyes. Take special note if you’re a contact-lens wearer — urban particulates can build up on your contact lenses, leading to smudges and impaired vision. 

Forest fires. Smoke resulting from forest fires can also harm your eyesight. With increasing numbers of forest fires populating America’s Sun Belt, city and rural residents alike should be on guard for eye irritation from traveling smoke. Symptoms of smoke-related eye irritation include itchy, stinging, and gritty-feeling eyes.

High ozone levels. Ozone is an invisible gas that is emitted from combustion reactions, and it’s a main component of urban smog. Ozone becomes especially prevalent in the summer months, when increased sunlight amplifies smog cover over the city. Dryness and irritation are common consequences of high ozone levels. 

Protecting Your Eyes Against Pollutants

The bad news is that, since your eyes are exposed to the elements, it’s really hard to stay away from air pollutants. Now for the good news: there are plenty of ways to treat eye irritation.

Air pollution can make your eyes dry, and it can also lead to the accumulation of small particles on the surface of your eye. Use eye-care solutions to lubricate your eyes and wash out harmful microscopic objects that have gotten stuck. Artificial tears can serve both functions. If discomfort persists after you’ve used artificial tears, talk to an eye doctor immediately.  

For eye care in the East Valley, Swagel Wootton offers trustworthy evaluations for any of your eye-related problems. Our optometrists can help you find the source of your eye irritation and help your eyes feel normal again. For quality eye care from some of the best specialists in the area, schedule an appointment today at our Mesa and Chandler locations.