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Wildfire Smoke Exposure, Bad for Our Eyes?

The consequences of the Canada wildfires reach far beyond the immediate and continued threat posed by flames and destruction. This summer, these wildfires created a concerning red-orange smoky haze that engulfed the Philadelphia area and various other regions in the United States.

forest on fire with smokeWith wildfires becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence, it prompts us to consider the potential effects of wildfire smoke exposure on our eyes. According to Dr. Laine S. Higa, Dry Eye Clinic specialist at The Eye Institute (TEI) of Salus University, smoke from wildfires can cause major issues, “wildfire smoke can irritate the eyes causing them to appear red and result in symptoms of foreign body sensation, tearing, burning/stinging and fluctuating vision.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “wildfire smoke can contain irritants like fine particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and other chemicals that can greatly impact eye health. When these irritants come into contact with the eyes, they can cause a range of symptoms and complications, with dry eye being a particularly prevalent issue.

“While we don't know the long term effects of smoke on our eyes, the short term effects can be bothersome and may exacerbate pre-existing symptoms in those already suffering from dry eye disease” said Dr. Higa. 


What are the symptoms of Dry Eye? 

  • Burning or stinging sensation in the eye
  • Gritty or sandy feeling
  • Redness and inflammation
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Watery eyes, which is the body's response to the irritation of dry eyes
  • Blurred vision or eye fatigue 

Untreated dry eye syndrome can cause damage to the cornea, the front surface of the eye. Early diagnosis and treatment of the condition can avoid damaging the cornea and improve the quality of vision.

So how can we protect our eyes from wildfire smoke exposure? The answer is uncertain. “Unfortunately, there are not many ways to protect our eyes from the smoke,” said Dr. Higa. 

Optometrist performing eye exam on patientHowever, Dr. Higa recommends when staying indoors from wildfire smoke to use an air purifier as it is ”best for both your eyes and your lungs.”

He also recommends if it’s necessary to go outdoors during wildfire smoke exposure, with use of hydrating eye drops, “when outdoors, instill preservative-free artificial tears/lubricating eye drops to your eyes to keep them hydrated and lubricated.

These tears will help to trap debris/smoke particles and drain them away from the eye's surface. Avoid allergy eye drops and/or drops that 'take the red out' as these drops may worsen your symptoms.” 

The Eye Institute’s Dry Eye Clinic focuses on the diagnosis and management of dry eye syndrome. Expert optometrists provide comprehensive dry eye evaluations, using the latest technology, and recommend thorough, customized therapy plans for each patient.

If you are experiencing symptoms of dry eye, contact the dry eye experts at The Eye Institute. For an appointment, call: 215.276.6111.