The Impacts of Climate Change on Eye Health | San Antonio LASIK
How Climate Can Affect Your Vision and Eye Health
Often, eye problems are attributed to factors like diet, age, or lifestyle habits. And indeed, these elements play a crucial role in eye health. But consider another significant aspect: your environment, specifically the climate.
Natural disasters usually bring in their extreme conditions such as high winds, torrential rain, or excessive heat, especially in San Antonio. Each of these conditions poses a unique threat to your eyes, and considering your eye health should be an essential part of your disaster preparedness plan. This can involve:
- Ensuring you have an adequate supply of eye care essentials;
- Protecting your eyes from debris and dust during a storm;
- Wearing protective eyewear;
As the climate changes and increases the intensity and frequency of these extreme weather conditions, specialized eye care needs to adapt as well. Just like you’d research thoroughly before picking a LASIK surgeon, it’s similarly important to research the various effects climate can have on your vision.
Dry eyes, a common and often chronic problem, can be particularly worsened by certain climatic conditions. This syndrome occurs when tears evaporate too quickly and your eyes can’t produce enough moisture to provide proper lubrication. This may can cause a stinging or burning sensation in your eyes, making them feel gritty or scratchy.
The role of climate in dry eyes is significant:
- Living in arid regions or places with low humidity, exposure to wind, and dust or pollen in the air can all contribute to the evaporation of tears.
- Air conditioning or central heating used in extreme weather conditions (both in the summer and winter) can dry out your eyes.
Dryness after LASIK Eye Surgery is an uncommon side effect, but is almost always temporary and can be managed under the guidance of eye care professionals. Your LASIK surgeon can devise a treatment strategy to alleviate dry eye symptoms and determine your suitability for LASIK. The treatment plan may involve utilizing artificial tears, prescribed eye drops, or undergoing specific procedures at the doctor’s office. Once your dry eye condition is effectively managed, you could become a potential candidate for LASIK. The most common primary factor contributing to dry eye syndrome is frequently observed as overwearing contact lenses.
Here are a few tips for preventing dry eyes when heading outdoors:
- Choose wraparound sunglasses to protect your eyes from wind, dust, and pollen.
- Hydration aids in tear production. Drink enough water throughout the day.
- Over-the-counter eye drops provide quick relief though they’re not a cure.
- Blink frequently — this spreads tears evenly across your eyes.
- Follow a diet rich in Omega-3s to help boost your tear production.
With a bit of care and prevention, you can minimize the effects.
Glaucoma, a condition that damages the optic nerve due to abnormally high pressure in your eyes, is one of the leading causes of blindness in people over 60. While it can happen to anyone, it’s more common in older adults and can be influenced by various environmental, inheritable, and climatic factors.
For example, one 2019 study conducted by the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology found that patients in neighborhoods exposed to pollution were more likely to experience glaucoma than those who weren’t exposed to pollution.
In addition, cold, dry climates can also affect the fluid’s viscosity inside the eyes, potentially increasing intraocular pressure.
With early diagnosis and proper treatment, you can manage your condition.
Increase Chances of Cataracts
The eye’s lens can become clouded with age, causing a common condition called cataracts. This cloudiness can block the path of light to the retina, affecting vision. It’s often compared to looking through a foggy or frosted window. Symptoms may include blurry or double vision, difficulty with night vision, sensitivity to light, and seeing “halos” around lights.
Although cataracts can be caused by a variety of sources, one 2022 study indicates our climate can impact cataracts’ development and progression. For example, prolonged UV exposure is a known risk factor for cataracts. Similarly, living in extremely cold, high-altitude areas or hot, arid climates where dehydration is common can also contribute to the development of cataracts.
Now, here are some tips for managing cataracts:
- Quit smoking.
- Schedule regular checkups.
- Reduce alcohol consumption.
- Wearing sunglasses that block out 100% of both UVA and UVB rays.
- A diet rich in vitamins C and E, along with foods containing antioxidants, for eye health.
Exposure to certain elements can lead to various ocular infections and conditions, such as:
- Photokeratitis (ocular sunburn): This condition occurs when your eye is exposed to intense UV rays from the sun.
- Allergic conjunctivitis: Often caused by exposure to natural allergens like pollen, dust, or animal dander.
- Fungal eye infections: These are relatively rare and often occur due to an eye injury, particularly if a plant material like a stick or a thorn caused the injury.
- Get LASIK Eye Surgery to help remove the need to infrequently need to put in contact lenses.
Although most of these infections can be temporary as long as you seek out treatment immediately, they can also have long-term effects — some even leading to permanent vision loss. To protect your vision:
- Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching or rubbing your eyes;
- Avoid contact with plants or other materials that could potentially be contaminated.
- Avoid wearing your contacts when swimming or in a hot tub to prevent exposure to waterborne bacteria and fungi that can cause serious eye infections.
By following these preventive measures, you minimize risk exposure.
Air pollution — both outdoor and indoor — can have several adverse effects on our eyes. Small particulate matter, a common component of air pollution, can easily get into your eyes and cause problems.
Pollution can affect your eyesight even when not directly exposed to the outdoor air. For instance, while driving, even inside the vehicle, you can still be affected by the pollution outside.
Here are some steps you can take to mitigate this:
- Stay indoors when the air quality index is poor. If you need to go outside, try to do so when pollution levels are lower.
- Use air purifiers and close windows on high-pollution days to reduce indoor air pollution. Avoid smoking indoors too.
- Keep car windows and air vents closed during heavy traffic.
While you can’t altogether avoid exposure to air pollution, you can still take precautions.
Severe Allergic Reactions
Different climates can bring out various allergens, and changes in weather patterns can affect their prevalence and potency. For instance, spring and fall can be tough for those with pollen allergies due to high amounts in the air. Similarly, dry and windy weather can spread dust and pollen, triggering allergic reactions. Damp and humid climates can increase mold spores, another common allergen.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include:
- Itchy, watery, or swollen eyes;
- Runny or stuffy nose;
- Itchy or sore throat;
- Difficulty breathing, in severe cases.
With warmer seasons becoming longer, affecting the growth of pollen and mold alike, many people may find that they’re experiencing these symptoms longer throughout the year, with more intense symptoms — especially those that affect the eye. If you’re allergy-prone, here are some tips to manage:
- Stay indoors as much as possible when the pollen count is high.
- Change your clothes and shower after coming inside from the outdoors.
- Limit outdoor activities during peak pollen count times.
- Take antihistamines to help reduce symptoms, as directed by your doctor.
- Consider allergy shots (immunotherapy) to reduce your sensitivity to allergens.
With some preventive care, you can minimize your risk of your allergic reactions worsening.
UV Radiation Damage
Though you cannot see UV radiation, it substantially affects health. Prolonged exposure to UV radiation can lead to premature aging, sunburn, and an increased risk of skin cancer.
Likewise, UV radiation can cause many issues in the eyes, including photokeratitis, pterygium, cataracts, and macular degeneration. Unfortunately, climate change has altered the ozone layer, allowing higher-frequency UV rays to reach Earth’s surface and increasing the rate of some of the health risks associated with radiation.
Here are some ways to protect your eyes from UV radiation:
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat;
- Seek shade during peak sun hours;
- Wear sunglasses that block out 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays.
Climate can significantly impact your eye health. But if you take the steps outlined above, you can manage and protect your vision from environmental factors.
Be sure to talk to one of our doctors about not only the benefits of LASIK, but also any risks of LASIK that may pertain to your individual needs and circumstances.