As bushfire conditions escalate and fires continue to rage across Australia, a smoke haze has been blanketing many parts of the country.
While this unprecedented disaster is wreaking havoc on people, homes and animals, authorities are also concerned about the potential for thick plumes of smoke to cause health problems.
The Air Quality Index - or AQI - is a yardstick that runs from 0 to 500. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. Fine particle pollution over 200 can cause serious health issues, such as burning or itchy eyes, throat irritation and a runny nose.
“It’s the really fine particles that we’re worried about, they’re like one-twentieth the size of our hair,” said Dr Darren Saunders from the University of New South Wales.
Eye health practitioners such as optometrists have already seen an influx of patients with strong eye discomfort and irritation as a result of the extra particles in the air at the moment.
Luke Arundel, Optometry Australia’s Chief Clinical Officer, said that people who already suffer from eye conditions such as dry eye, blepharitis or allergic conjunctivitis are especially susceptible to the burning and stinging eye pain that smoke can cause.
Here, Luke offers some simple ways to mitigate the effects of smoke to the eyes:
- Lubricate - One of the best ways to alleviate irritation in your eyes is to lubricate them with eye drops or artificial tears which you can buy over the counter. People with underlying conditions already using eye drops may wish to double their application until the smoke dissipates.
- Don’t rub - Be careful to NOT rub your eyes which can worsen the irritation.
- Take a break from contacts - Contact lens wearers may find smoke particularly problematic, and should give their eyes a break from contact lens use if their eyes are experiencing irritation.
- Cool your eyes - Lying down with a cold compress over your eyes can be soothing.
- Stay indoors – particularly if you have an underlying condition that makes you more sensitive to smoke, such as dry eye, it’s best to stay indoors as much as possible.
- Wear glasses or goggles – Specialty goggles that are often prescribed to patients with dry eye can be an effective option for people experiencing sensitivity to smoke in the air. And close-fitting glasses or sunglasses will provide at least some barrier to particle pollution.
- See your optometrist – If your symptoms persist after trying these tips, make an appointment to see your optometrist who may be able to prescribe a more specific treatment.
Optometry Australia’s Employee Assistance Program provider, LifeWorks, has opened up a crisis support line for anyone in the community in need of emotional support in relation to the bushfires. The line is open 24/7 and can be reached at 1300 361 008. By calling, individuals will receive professional emotional support and/or referral to community resources. We encourage you to draw on this resource if you feel it might help you.