As a Utah resident, you view winter with an equal amount of glee and dread. You feel excited about the promise of snow-especially if you’re a skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing enthusiast-and enjoy the way the snow beautifies Utah’s picturesque landscape. You’re also ready for a reprieve from summer’s sky-high temperatures.
However, along with the slippery road conditions, one thing puts a damper on your wintertime excitement: poor air quality. While wildfires and high temperatures create smoggy summer days, wintertime inversions linger for weeks on end. Inversions trap pollutants, and this buildup both makes breathing difficult and ruins your view of the snow-dusted mountains.
You’ve probably thought about how pollution affects your lungs, but have you considered how it impacts your eyes? In our blog below, we’ll tell you how air pollution can hurt your eyes and share some methods to keep your eyes happy and your vision clear this winter.
How Does Air Pollution Affect Your Eyes?
If you have sensitive eyes, you already know that air pollutants irritate them. You can hardly step outside without experiencing red, itchy eyes, even on yellow-air-quality days. People with less-sensitive eyes might only suffer from this irritation on red-air-quality days, but the red eyes and annoyance remain the same.
Usually, your eye irritation clears up as the pollution does. However, recent studies link high air pollution levels to increased occurrences of dry eye syndrome. They also discovered that your risk increases with your city’s elevation; urban areas at higher elevations have the greatest correlation with dry eye syndrome.
What Is Dry Eye Syndrome?
As the name suggests, dry eye syndrome means that your eyes can’t produce the right amount of tears to stay wet. This lack of moisture makes your eyes feel gritty, scratchy, or itchy, or produces a burning sensation. You might also feel like you have something small lodged in your eye that you can’t remove. As your eye works to produce tears, you’ll probably notice blurred vision and excessively watery eyes.
Dry eye often develops with age. Certain medications increase dry eye, as does routinely looking at a computer screen for several minutes without blinking.
You could also develop this condition due to long-term contact lens use, as a result of diseases like arthritis or lupus, or as a consequence of poor tear duct drainage. And, as mentioned above, symptoms occur because of exposure to poor air quality and excessive air pollutants.
Untreated dry eye decreases your quality of life, and increase your risk of eye infection and worsen your eyesight. If left untreated for an extensive period of time, it also causes permanent eye damage.
How Do Ophthalmologists Treat Dry Eye?
With mild cases of dry eye, most ophthalmologists recommend artificial tears, or eye drops. These artificial lubricants give your eyes extra moisture that reduces symptoms like irritation and scratchiness. Depending on the severity of your dry eye, your ophthalmologist might give you prescription eye drops or ointment to lessen your symptoms.
In some cases, excessive drainage from your tear ducts causes this condition. As a result, your ophthalmologist will insert either a permanent or temporary plug that prevents your tears from draining as quickly. The insertion is painless and happens in your eye doctor’s office. In more extreme cases, you might require tear duct surgery to prevent drainage.
How Can You Minimize Your Risk of Dry Eye Syndrome?
Unfortunately, you can’t always prevent dry eye syndrome. Air pollution exposure, age, and other factors cause it to develop, and it can’t be reversed. However, you can minimize its effects through the treatments above. You can also minimize your exposure to air pollutants as you stay indoors.
Whether you have chronic dry eyes or only experience temporary dry eyes in bad weather, take the following steps to reduce symptoms:
- Stay hydrated. If you don’t have enough water in your body, you can’t produce the amount of tears you need for pain-free eyes.
- Wear sunglasses or goggles. Utah’s arid climate and winter winds quickly dry out your eyes. Wear sunglasses when you’re outside during the day this winter, and always wear protective goggles when you hit the slopes.
- Quit smoking. Cigarette smoke quickly dries out your eyes and causes constant eye irritation.
- Switch medications. If your current medication causes dry eye, talk to your doctor about medication alternatives with fewer side effects.
- Increase humidity. As previously mentioned, Utah’s dry climate is hard on the eyes. Increase your level of indoor humidity and install a humidifier, or bring a pocket-sized humidifier with you to work to moisturize your environment.
- Install a high-quality air filter, and check that your home’s ventilation systems function correctly. This process keeps outdoor air pollutants out of your home during the cold months.
Of course, you can also take small steps to decrease the amount of pollution in the air this winter. Ride public transit whenever possible, and always follow wood-burning restrictions. If you go outside to exercise, do so in the mornings or evenings when air pollutants are at a lower concentration.
If you experience dry, irritated eyes this winter, don’t despair. Visit your ophthalmologist for a diagnosis and recommended course of treatment, and follow the tips above to reduce dry eye symptoms. With a little help, you can reduce your eyes’ irritation and instead use your clear vision to enjoy the beautiful, snow-covered Utah landscape.