Clear Eyes® Eye Care Blog

Sensitive Eyes? Indoor or Outdoor Pollution Could Be the Reason

Many people know that air pollution causes or contributes to conditions like heart disease, cancers, asthma and other lung conditions. Did you know that air pollution – and indoor pollution – could also be why your eyes feel sensitive and irritated? Oftentimes, we say, “Oh, it’s just allergies,” but it could be something more.

Outdoor Air Pollution’s Effect on Eyes

Smog (ground-level ozone from auto exhaust/fossil fuel emissions) and smoke from wildfires can irritate your eyes and throat. This is especially a concern if you work, exercise or spend a lot of time outdoors in affected areas. The effect of pollution on your eyes can be even worse if you have seasonal allergies.

Below are some of the effects air pollution can have on your eyes:

  • Burning and redness
  • Dry eyes, grittiness and irritation
  • Itchiness
  • Watery eyes
  • Increased risk of eye infections/conjunctivitis

Tips for protecting your eyes from pollution outside

The air around you may look clear, but that doesn’t mean it is. Luckily, weather reports on TV and apps usually include air quality reports or ratings. You can also check AirNow to find out the latest conditions in your area. If pollution levels are high or if you live or work in an area affected by wildfires or wildfire smoke, consider doing the following to help protect your eyes:

  • Limit your time outside or schedule outside work or exercise for the morning when ozone levels tend to be lower.
  • Keep your windows in your car and home closed.
  • Change air and cabin filters in your car and HVAC filters in your home more frequently than recommended.
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses or eyewear to help protect your eyes from harmful pollution particles. 
  • If you must wear contact lenses, choose daily disposable ones or use a silicon-based hydrogel lens that doesn't let water evaporate as easily as other types of contact lenses.
  • Relieve irritation and discomfort by applying a cold compress or eye mask and/or using our Clear Eyes® Complete For Sensitive Eyes for gentle soothing relief of discomfort.

Indoor Air’s Effect on Your Eyes

Indoor air can also affect eye health, but it’s not just pollution indoors that contributes to eye sensitivity and irritation. A lack of moisture in the air (low relative humidity) can cause dry eye and irritation. This can happen in the home or office setting. In the office or work environment especially, this lack of moisture in the air combines with indoor pollutants, glare from bright or poor lighting, reduced blinking due to increased screen time, and lack of breaks while focusing on screens and work. This is a recipe that can increase eye sensitivity.

We can also add another ingredient to that recipe. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve learned that wearing face masks can sometimes contribute to causing dry eyes. (Read Face Masks & Dry Eye: What You Need to Know.)

Tips for protecting your eyes indoors

  • Keep your windows closed, especially on days where pollution levels are high or when wildfire smoke is in the area.
  • Use a humidifier to moisten the air in the room.
  • Use an air purifier in your bedroom and in your office space.
  • Change filters on your heating and air conditioning system, humidifier and air purifiers regularly.
  • Place plants throughout your home and office to help increase humidity.
  • Remind yourself to blink while you are working, using a digital device or watching TV.
  • Take frequent breaks or, at least, frequent eye breaks and focus on a spot in the distance for at least 20 seconds.
  • Increase the text size on your devices to read content more easily.
  • Adjust lighting in the room or position yourself and your screen to reduce or eliminate glare.
  • Use lubricating eye drops to relieve dry eyes, redness, itchiness and burning.

When to See Your Doctor

If you have frequent dry eyes and irritation and are not getting relief from the tips above, you may want to see your eye doctor. Ongoing dryness can cause inflammation and possibly damage the surface of your eye. Anytime you have concerns about your eyes or vision, you should call your eye doctor for advice or to set up a visit. They know your medical history and can better tell you when you need more care.

Relief for Sensitive Eyes

In general, if your eyes feel sensitive and dry, you may want to try our Clear Eyes® Complete For Sensitive Eyes. With no parabens, dyes or benzalkonium chloride, this gentle formula provides up to 12 hours of soothing, effective relief.