Think of cities with a serious Pollution problem and you think of Delhi or Beijing — places known for their heavy smog clouds that sweep over and blanket whole neighbourhoods for days, weeks, or months on end.
Somewhere that doesn’t immediately come to mind, however, with all its talk of protecting the environment and supporting green energy, is London. Yet surprisingly enough — at least for those that don’t live in the capital — last year Air Pollution in London peaked at a level higher than Beijing for a brief period. And the everyday reality is that the city’s pollutants regularly surpass UK limits.
Politicians have long known that nearly 9,5000 Londoners die prematurely each year as a consequence of long-term exposure to air pollution, and with its recent airtime in the media, the problem can’t be ignored much longer. Mayor Sadiq Khan is now beginning to take measures to reduce levels of pollution in London and safeguard the long-term health of its inhabitants.
Some of the changes we can expect to see are tougher laws on construction pollution, a toxicity charge for older, more polluting vehicles, a ban on wood-burning stoves, the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone (in 2019), low-emission buses, and zero-emission taxis.
All these efforts will no doubt help clean up our air, improve our general health, and add years to our lives. But what will they mean for two of our most precious organs: our eyes?
Keeping an eye on your skin
As the largest organ in the body and our outermost barrier to the elements, everything from ultraviolet radiation, oxides like those found in toxic dust in tube stations, and cigarette smoke can affect our skin.
Studies have long correlated air pollution with skin problems such as premature ageing, dryness, pigmentation, acne, and cancer. Therefore, clean up the air, and you clear up your skin. Think about looking as fresh as you do after a weekend away in the country, but every day of the week.
Why this is so important to your eyes is because the skin around them is thinner and frailer than any other area on the face. Meaning it is much more suspectable to the harmful effects of pollution, and that if you want healthy, radiant-looking eyes, you need a good, regular dose of clean, fresh air.
Looking out for your vision
Whereas it used to be only a common problem in the elderly, dry eye syndrome is becoming increasingly prevalent among younger people. Along with redness, itchiness, and watery eyes, it’s one of the signs that prolonged exposure to air pollution is seriously affecting your eyes.
Dry eye occurs as particles and toxic fumes adhere to the outer surface of the eye, damaging the tear film and putting you at risk of severe complications. How we know air pollution is so damaging is because in places with lower levels of pollution, these problems are largely absent, and people enjoy clear, bright, and comfortable eyesight.
Setting your own safety measures
The new air safety measures are certainly a step in the right direction, but being implemented by the government, they may take a while to come into effect. So, as you’re now well and truly aware of the harmful effects of pollution, what can you do to lessen its impact today?
- Wear sunglasses and a face mask. As well as when the sun is shining and UV levels are high, another time to wear glasses or shades is when air pollution rises above the accepted standards. Face masks when cycling on streets with heavy traffic or sitting on the tube for long periods of time can also help reduce the general health effects of pollution on the body.
- Stay hydrated. Keeping hydrated is health basics 101, but it’s particularly important for keeping your eyes healthy. Simply put, if you don’t have enough water in your body, your tear film — the antibacterial protective layer on the outer surface of your eye — can quickly dry out and lead to irritation and more serious conditions.
- Quit smoking. Cigarette smoke dries out the eyes and can exacerbate eye irritation. If you can avoid it, do.
- Install a high-quality air filter. Air filters and purifiers help keep outdoor air pollutants and allergens like pollen and dust out of indoor areas. If you can, install one at home and convince the boss get one in the office.
- Check the UK air website regularly. Run by DEFRA and the Home Office, the UK Air website displays daily and extended forecasts of air pollution across the whole of the UK. You can use it to check levels in your area or where you are heading to help you avoid and prepare for particularly bad spells.
- Decrease your time in polluted areas. The best thing you can do to safeguard your eye health from air pollution is to cut down the amount of time you’re exposed to it. Over time, this can make a huge difference to your total exposure and reduce the chances of any long-term impacts on your health.