• Brittany Kwan

The Relationship Between Air Pollution and Your Eyes

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

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Biology often teaches the importance of clean air to limit the possibility of developing lung diseases, but what about eye diseases? You read that correctly! Earlier this year, the British Journal of Ophthalmology published a study addressing the correlation between air pollution and age-related macular degeneration.

For those over the age of 50, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading irreversible cause of blindness. AMD causes one’s vision to gradually blur, making vision-dependent tasks like reading or driving very difficult. Many factors can affect AMD, such as older age, genetics, and oddly enough, air pollution. Oftentimes, it is challenging to identify early-stages of AMD, but symptoms of later stages include having the center of your vision blurred, or seeing blank spots.

Image: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/26/air-pollution-linked-to-higher-risk-of-irreversible-sight-loss

Historically speaking, air pollution has been linked to diseases that impact other parts of the human body, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. The leader of this investigation, Professor Paul Foster, stated that even low exposure to air pollution can increase the risk of AMD: “... Living in an area with polluted air, particularly fine particulate matter or combustion-related particles that come from road traffic, could contribute to eye disease” (ScienceDaily, 2021). The study also adds that it is possible air pollution accelerates(?) AMD through oxidative stress or inflammation.

For many developing countries, air pollution is an even larger problem, as many of them do not have the technology or resources to combat it. This leads to developing countries facing the hardships of vision impairment far more than developed countries. According to a study conducted by Dr. Alfred Sommer, one major factor that contributes to this is having various eye diseases left untreated due to lack of eye care access. Many of these diseases, (for example trachoma,) are treated far less in wealthy countries, as they differ in climate regions and economic status. As this cycle continues, individuals living in these countries are also affected personally and economically, as eye impairment can entangle itself with lifestyle and employment. This causes the rate of blindness to increase among developing countries.

At the end of the day, improving air quality will be a major step in being able to limit various diseases and providing better-quality health care.






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