How Air Pollution Affects Your Vision & Ways To Protect Your Eyes

You don’t need convincing that air pollution is a major issue if you live in the city, but if you live in a rural area, you might be fooled into thinking that the open space and lack of smog mean the air you breathe is completely free of pollution. That isn’t always true. 

Air pollution is a global problem, with a global response. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) have been combatting the effects of air pollution for decades. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been fighting to keep our air quality cleaner since the Clean Air Act of 1970.  

Air quality affects virtually every aspect of our day-to-day life and can be detrimental to some of our most vital bodily organs. Your eyes are no exception; poor air quality has a profound impact on your vision.

The Stoggles team developed this guide to help you understand how air pollution affects your eyes and what you can do to protect your vision and see more healthfully. 

What Is Air Pollution?

If we’re honest, most of us don’t really understand what air pollution actually is. As we commute into the city for work each day, we know that the thick layer of dust-like haze circling the buildings isn’t just friendly fog. Yet, what actually makes up that smog may be eluding us. 

Put simply,—air pollution is the release of pollutants (compounds that are potentially toxic to the human body) into the air.

Specifically, most air pollution will fall into one of the following four categories: 

  • Smog
  • Soot
  • Greenhouse gasses
  • Pollen and/or mold

These categories of pollutants combine to make air less breathable and even unhealthy for our eyes. 

How Big Is The Problem?

It’s big. The WHO says that pollution is responsible for at least seven million deaths each year. This is because nine out of ten humans live in areas that don’t meet the WHO’s guidelines for clean, breathable air. 

The Clean Air Act allows the U.S. government to enact policies, regulate emissions, and establish parameters to help keep the air in the U.S. clean, but in impoverished countries, there is little government involvement or aid to keep the air clear. 

How Does Air Pollution Happen?

Most air pollution is the result of energy use and production. In other words, as we burn materials to produce energy, the off-gassing produced enters the air and forms pollution.

Here’s a breakdown of where the four main categories of air pollution come from: 

Smog

Smog. It became a buzzword in the 1980s and 1990s as it became a bigger and bigger problem. As greenhouse gasses (which we’ll cover in a moment) increased the earth’s atmospheric temperature, smog became more prevalent and more stagnant. That means it takes longer for smog to dissipate than it once did. 

Smog comes from the combustion of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil. When a volatile organic compound reacts with sunlight, the result is smog. 

Before the 80s, most sources of smog came from factories. Production of coal accounted for the majority of smog in cities. Today, the majority of the smog we see comes from cars, trucks, factories, and even cleaning solvents. 

Soot

Soot is the particulate form of smog. Soot in the air we breathe is similar to the soot you see when you burn a fire in the fireplace. It is fine, dust-like particles and chemicals that can travel in the air. Then, soot lands on objects (like your car, house, shoulders, etc.). 

Like smog, soot happens when a volatile organic compound is combusted for energy. Engines, plants, factories, and cars are all sources of soot in the air. 

Greenhouse Gasses

We hear a lot about greenhouse gasses and how they are affecting the earth’s climate. Greenhouses gasses are gasses that trap heat inside the earth’s atmosphere. When this heat is trapped, the earth’s atmospheric temperature rises, creating climate change. 

There are two main types of greenhouse gasses: carbon dioxide and methane. The largest source of carbon dioxide is from the combustion of fossil fuels. Methane has both industrial sources and natural sources. Methane can come from activities like oil and gas drilling and even from raising cattle.

Pollen and Mold

Allergy sufferers know that pollinating plants can wreak havoc on their health. Exposure to allergens happens in the air, making pollen and mold two forms of air pollution. 

Pollen is exacerbated by climate change. Climate change alters the way certain plants pollinate, causing them to pollinate longer or at different times. 

For instance, ragweed, a known allergen, pollinates longer and produces more pollen due to increased temperatures in areas where it grows. This increased temperature allows the plant to expand its pollination period

How Air Pollution Affects The Eyes

Sure, air pollution is dangerous to your lungs. There are numerous studies that prove it’s harmful to virtually every system in your body. However, few of us realize the impact that air pollution and air quality have on our vision and overall eye health. 

Recent studies show that air pollution has a profound and permanent impact on our vision when we are exposed to it over extended periods of time. While some of the following eye-related issues may seem minor, they can become long-term, permanent problems that don’t have a viable solution. 

Air pollution can cause you to experience issues like dry eye syndrome, constant irritation, vision issues, and retinal damage. 

Dry Eye Syndrome

It’s common to experience dry eyes from time to time, but if you find yourself continually relying on artificial tears to keep your eyes comfortable, you may be suffering from dry eye syndrome. 

Symptoms of dry eye syndrome include eyes that don’t produce enough tears, making your eyes dry, sore, or red. Dry eyes tend to have an overall discomfort. Air pollution contributes to dry eye syndrome by creating a dry, arid atmosphere that inhibits the production of natural tears. 

Constant Eye Irritation 

Burning, itching, watering, red eyes are eyes that are inflamed and irritated. This irritation can happen for various reasons, but if the source doesn’t seem easy to pinpoint, you could have constant eye irritation due to air pollution. 

Increased smog and its lingering presence due to higher levels of greenhouse gasses can create the perfect storm for eye irritation. Exposure to this type of air pollution on a daily basis can cause you to experience higher levels of eye irritation and pain that won't go away on their own. 

Vision Issues

If you’ve ever stared at a screen for hours on end, you know that your vision can become blurry. Exposure to certain types of light over long periods of time can cause eye pain, strain, and fatigue. 

Air pollution is also capable of producing similar effects. Exposure to heavy smog and soot can cause blurry vision. This is usually temporary, but if you live in an area where smog and soot are prevalent, you can expect to deal with blurry vision on a daily basis unless your eyes are protected. 

Retinal Damage

Possibly the most alarming impact to your vision posed by air pollution exposure is damage to your retinas. 

Your retinas are located behind your lens, pupil, and cornea. They are home to millions of retinal cells which process the light collected by the cornea and send it to the brain via the optic nerve. The brain then interprets the light into what you see. 

Retinal cells are important because they are responsible for your vision, and they don’t regenerate. This means that damage to your retina is often permanent and irreversible and can ultimately lead to vision loss. 

Studies show that long-term exposure to air pollution, especially to carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, can cause retinal deterioration, also known as macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is commonly an age-related illness affecting people over the age of 60. These studies indicate that long-term exposure to air pollution can cause retinal damage as early as age 50. 

Eye Allergies

Just like ragweed may make you cough and sneeze, certain allergens can also affect your eyes. Eye allergies are especially annoying because it can be hard to pinpoint the source of the allergen.

There are two types of allergens that affect eye health: seasonal and perennial allergens:

  • Seasonal. Seasonal eye allergens refer to allergens that are only in the air during a particular season. In other words, blooming plants, oak, ragweed, and any other pollinating plant that pollinates during a season and then lies dormant. 
  • Perennial. Perennial allergens refer to eye allergens that are permanent fixtures year-round. These can be insect droppings, pet dander, or mold. 

Eye allergy symptoms are usually characterized by itchy, watery eyes, redness, excessive tearing, and in some cases, pain. 

How Do You Protect Your Eyes from Air Pollution?

Air pollution sounds a little doom and gloom, and while it is a major issue, there are ways to protect your eyes to ensure they remain healthy and you preserve your vision.

Here’s what you can do to protect your eyes and keep them comfortable:

Limit Your Exposure

It may not be possible to limit your exposure to all air pollution. The nature of your job, where you live, or how you commute might make it impossible to get away from smog and soot. However, you can limit your exposure by not frequenting highly polluted areas if you don’t have to. 

Likewise, you can limit your exposure to allergens and mold by determining what your allergies are and avoiding them as much as possible. 

Always Wear Eye Protection

If you’re going to be in an area of high pollution, or if you know you’ll be outdoors during ragweed season, you can always rely on safety glasses to protect your eyes and preserve your vision. 

Safety glasses aren’t just for construction workers and medical professionals. Individuals with high levels of eye sensitivity can benefit from wearing safety glasses to reduce the amount of air pollution that comes in contact with their eyes. 

Safety Glasses for Air Pollution

Standard safety glasses need not apply. Stoggles are the solution for keeping your eyes shielded from the bad stuff floating in the air and from bad style. Our glasses are not only incredibly protective, but they’re incredibly attractive, too. 

Side and Top Shields

Standard eyeglasses leave your eyes vulnerable at the tops and sides of your frames, allowing allergens, smog, soot, and dust to enter your field of vision and potentially harm your eyes. Side and top shields create a secure border to keep irritants out. 

UV and Blue Light Protection

Every pair of Stoggles comes standard with both UV blocking lenses and a blue light protective coating. This means you’ll be protected from harmful light rays whether you’re outside in the sun or inside working on your computer. 

Anti-Fog Technology

If you wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from air pollution, but if you continually have to remove them to wipe away fog, then they won’t be very effective. Stoggles glasses all have anti-fog lenses to ensure you never have to remove your glasses to wipe them down.

Impact Resistance

Of course, Stoggles are impact-resistant. Our polycarbonate frames are lightweight and ANSI Z78.1+ certified. You can wear them to protect your eyes from allergens, irritants, and flying objects. 

Clear The Air, With Stoggles

Air pollution is all around us, no matter where we live. It comes in the form of burning energy and from pollinating allergens. Stoggles can help you keep your eyes protected and reduce irritation from smog, smoke, soot, and pollen. 

Keep your eyes safe from the long and short-term effects of air pollution. Stoggles are the safety glasses that keep your eyes safe and your style on point. 


Sources:

Air Pollution: Everything You Need to Know | NRDC 

Air Pollution is Causing Permanent Damage to Eye Health | Earth.Org - Past | Present | Future 

History of Air Pollution | US EPA 

Climate Change Indicators: Ragweed Pollen Season | US EPA 

Dry eyes - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic 

Traffic-related air pollutants increase the risk for age-related macular degeneration | Journal of Investigative Medicine  

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