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Delhi doctors flag rise in eye-related problems due to foul air

As Delhi reels under another tryst with air pollution, several public health experts have flagged a spike in the number of patients reporting irritation in eyes because of toxic pollutants. The noxious air causes dry eye disease, which if left untreated, could lead to vision problems, they warn.

The air pollution reaches a peak in Delhi and its surrounding regions every winter, when pollution from stubble burning and local sources combines with the suspended water droplets in the lower atmosphere to form a thick blanket of noxious smog, thus creating health hazards.

On Wednesday, the capital city's 24-hour average air quality index stood at 258, which falls in the 'poor' category. The System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) categorises air quality in the 0-50 range as good, 51-100 as satisfactory, 101-200 as moderate, 201-300 as poor, 301-400 as very poor and above 400 as severe.

Dr Rohit Gera, a Delhi-based eye doctor, said that various cases of irritation in eyes have been reported, especially in children as well as office-goers due to the deteriorating air quality. "Their eyes were already reeling under the increased screen time because of the coronavirus pandemic and now they are having irritation in eyes because of chemicals, and pollutants in the air."

Gera, an ophthalmologist at Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals, added: "Some have also been developing dry eye symptoms. It is a chronic condition and if left untreated for a long time, it can lead to vision problems. One needs to include food which contains omega 3 and antioxidants besides drinking loads of water to manage dry eye syndrome."

He said that if the air seems hazy from pollution, people should limit time outdoors, protect eyes with sunglasses, or clear safety glasses. "If you wear contact lenses, clean them thoroughly. The need of the hour is to give rest to the eyes and relax," he added.

Dr Tushar Grover, the Medical Director of the Vision Eye Centre, said that the widespread perception that pollution mostly impacts lungs is misconceived, as it is also severely detrimental to eye health.

"As toxic pollutants come in contact with outer surface of the eye, especially cornea and conjunctiva, they feel itchy, irritated and become red with a moderate to sharp burning sensation."

"The eyes can develop dry eye disease which can not only cause discomfort but also lead to blurring of vision due to damage to the surface of the eye. Smog in winters can lead to severe dry eye, impairing both the quantity and quality of tears produced, as a result of which your eyes are deprived of necessary lubrication. Additionally, the risk of catching eye infections also increases," he added.

Grover stressed the importance of observing practices such as wearing sunglasses when stepping out, keeping hydrated, avoiding rubbing of eyes, washing hands before touching their eyes, taking frequent breaks from use of laptops and mobiles and having their eyes periodically lubricated with eye drops.

As per the Central Pollution Control Board, out of 35 pollution monitoring stations, the air quality index in as many as nine stations is in the very poor category, while 20 stations recorded the index in the poor category, five logged it in moderate category and two remained non-functional.

Vivek Vihar in Delhi eastern district recorded the highest AQI at 367, followed by 348 by the pollution monitoring station at west Delhi's Dwarka Sector 8. Delhi's neighbouring areas, including Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Noida, Greater Noida, Meerut and Gurugram are also recording foul air. Faridabad is currently the most polluted amongst all..