As unprecedented bushfires still ravage Australia, we’ve had to contend with smoke haze on a regular basis – even in cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.  On some days, the air quality has been 11 times the ‘hazardous’ level and people have resorted to wearing pollution masks to protect their lungs. But what about protecting our eyes?

The hazardous particles in bushfire smoke have resulted in many of us having eyes that are watery, red and burning. Unfortunately, poor air quality and  prolonged exposure to bushfire smoke can have adverse effects on our eyesight. Here are a few things you can do to minimise irritation and harmful long-term effects caused by the bushfire smoke. 

What happens when our eyes are exposed to bushfire smoke?

The eye’s surface is continuously exposed to the environment, except when we sleep. Bushfire smoke contains dust, gases like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, and small particles called PM10 and PM2.5. When we are exposed to bushfire smoke, the fumes and small particles dissolve into our tears and coat the eye’s surface. In some people, this can trigger inflammation, and therefore irritation.

What eye conditions can develop when exposed to bushfire smoke?

We are unsure of the long-term effects of bushfire smoke since we have, thankfully, not been exposed to many fires on this scale before, but if we observe the eye health of people in cities like Beijing and New Delhi where the air quality is very poor, we know that it can lead to chronic conditions like dry eyes and macular degeneration. 

If the smoke haze is particularly bad:

  • Avoid going outdoors when the air quality is at its worst.
  • Wear sunglasses or glasses to stop the dust carried in the wind from getting into your eyes.
  • Avoid wearing contact lenses, if possible.

If your eyes get irritated from the bushfire smoke:

  • Flush your eyes out with clean water, saline solution or  over-the-counter eye drops.  
  • Place a cool face washer over your closed lids
  • Refrain from rubbing your eyes, as this could make the irritation worse.

If your eyes are watery, itchy or dry due to the bushfires, book an appointment or call us on 9362-9944 to visit  our optometrists at The Eye Scene.