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It was written by Dr. Diana Nguyen.
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There are approximately 8000 wildfires each year in Canada, and the number continues to increase at an unprecedented rate. Unfortunately, Canada is prone to wildfires due to its vast forestry and dry climate during the summer seasons.  Another contributing factor is Canada’s average annual temperature increasing at almost double the rate compared to the global average.

One major concern about wildfire smoke is its immediate health implications. In early June 2023, the level of wildfire smoke and the air quality was so unhealthy that it set extreme warnings in cities like Toronto, New York and Quebec. Many individuals reported difficulty breathing, chest pain and coughing. 

During this period, I noticed an increase in patients symptoms concerning burning eyes, redness and overall eye irritation. Many of my other colleagues in Canada also saw the same surge in these symptoms. 

Let’s read more to find out why poor air quality causes wildfire smoke to irritate the eyes and how we can combat it.

Air Pollution and Ocular Irritation  

According to a climate report, wildfire emissions are a significant risk to air quality due to its mixture of volatile organic compounds, gasses and particles that are harmful to the human body. Due to the toxicity in the air, patients suffering from chronic dry eye disease experience worsening symptoms. 

Moreover, those that live in large metropolitan areas (with high air pollution) also tend to have lower tear production and faster evaporation of tears. 

Board-certified ophthalmologist and dry eye specialist, Dr. Laura Periman tested the effect of poor air quality on the tear film. She performed a retrospective analysis of the tear inflammatory level (MMP-9) in response to intense pulsed light (IPL) during periods of poor air quality. The study demonstrated that poor air quality was associated with less improvement in MMP-9 levels despite receiving IPL treatments. In layman’s terms, the wildfire emissions caused an increase in inflammation in the tears. 

Now that we know how air pollution and toxic wildfire emissions can negatively affect the eye, what should be done next to prevent further irritation?

Protect Your Eyes During Wildfire Smoke

Smoke particles can harm the delicate ocular surface so it’s important to adapt to these harsh environmental changes. Here are some tips below:

  1.  Avoid being outdoors and keep the windows closed
  • If there is no urgency to be outside then stay inside until the wildfire smoke clears. Your eyes and lungs will thank you!
  1. Use lubricating eye drops 
  1. Use air purifiers to help improve indoor air quality
  • If your area is prone to wildfire smoke then investing in a quality air purifier will reduce harsh particles from circulating your home

Don’t Suffer from Wildfire Irritation

If lubricating eye drops and staying indoors aren’t enough to combat the effects of the smoke particles, you may need stronger eye drops or dry eye treatment. Find a dry eye doctor near you so they can provide you with a thorough assessment to manage eye irritation from wildfire smoke. 

August 08, 2023

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