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Dry Eyes due to Pollution - Burning, Itchy, Red Eyes

Burning, Itchy, Red Eyes? Have Your Eyes Examined As These Could Be Signs Of Dry Eye Syndrome Caused Due To Toxic Air Pollutants

Most of India, and Delhi in particular, are experiencing a serious problem of air pollution. With increasing industrialisation, vehicles and burning of crop stubble, our cities and villages are struggling to breathe. One impact of air pollution that we often ignore is that on the eyes.

Remember that your eyes are very delicate, and remain vulnerable as they are exposed to the environmental conditions. Also remember that even though the immediate effects of exposure to airborne toxins are immediately visible, we should worry more about the long term effects of the same. The ocular effects of chronic, long term exposure to pollution are still not clear, but can range from chronic dry eyes to even cancerous lesions of the eye.

Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome due to air pollution

Dry eye syndrome is a symptom complex relating to an eye disease which can be caused by either the deficient tear productions in the eyes, or an increased rate of evaporation of the tears. Both these causes result in dryness of the eyes, and an eventual inflammation. The effects of air pollution on the eye can also result in a dry eye syndrome. These symptoms are non-specific and can often be credited to dryness, tiredness, or long hours in front of the computer. The presence of toxic chemicals in the air can cause a direct toxic effect, allergies, or result in extreme dryness of the eyes. The broad spectrum of symptoms can vary from a mild simple irritation to severe allergies, and even cancer.

The usual symptoms that you will experience include:

  • Redness of eyes

  • Burning sensation and generally sore eyes

  • Watering from the eyes which may become excessive when you step outside

  • Ropy discharge which is sticky, especially associated with itching

  • Itching, dryness, gritty sensation of sand in the eye

  • Visual disturbances due to watering and itching

  • Allergy is characterised by itching, redness, discharge, and often eyelid swelling.

  • Severe complications like corneal ulcers may result in inability to open eyes, loss of vision and even blindness.

  • These symptoms are usually more exaggerated in people who spend a lot of time outdoors, and in children who play outside.

Management of eye symptoms

Every little eye irritation does not require you to see an eye specialist. There are certain measures you can decide to try before seeking a medical opinion. In case of any associated decrease in vision, discharge from eyes, or a foreign body in the eye, you must seek immediate medical attention. If your symptoms last beyond three days, despite the following measures, you must see an ophthalmologist.

Some helpful measures to combat the ill effects of toxic air pollution include:

  • Prevention is better than cure. So try and avoid dusty, polluted areas. When the government issues a warning to stay indoors, limit your outdoor activities to the ones that are strictly necessary.

  • Avoid rubbing or touching your eyes and the surrounding area in case of any eye irritation. In case of any foreign particle in the eye, gently bathe your eyes in clean water. If it does not come out, do not attempt any heroics and go to your eye doctor.

  • You may use a cool compress to soothe tired eyes.

  • Use lubricating eye drops frequently. These are over the counter products available at chemists even without a prescription. Ask for a preservative free lubricating drop.

  • Make sure you use sunglasses when outdoors, especially in dusty areas.

  • Avoid direct splashing water in your eyes. If you must, use clean, drinking water to gently clean your eyes

  • Avoid wearing your contact lenses and eye makeup if eyes are red, or feeling irritated. In case of irritation while wearing contact lenses, make sure you immediately remove them, and rinse your eyes with lubricant eye drops.

  • Any growth on the eye, whether it is one the sclera (white part of the eye), or the cornea (the central black part), must be evaluated by your doctor, and managed appropriately.

  • Do not self-medicate, or take medication from a chemist.

  • Seek medical help in case symptoms persist or get aggravated. Any loss of vision is an emergency.


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