Californians have experienced it for decades, but Americans across the country have now been learning about wildfire season, which typically runs from June through August. In decades past, only the hottest and driest parts of the country dealt with these natural disasters, but factors like climate change have now caused widespread drought and high fire risk in other parts of the nation—not just in California.
Wildfires impact not only communities as whole but individual health, too. The eyes are particularly sensitive to the negative effects of smoke and ash. Even if you don’t live in an area prone to wildfires, you can still be impacted. Wind can bring in smoke, ash, and other particles from hundreds of miles away. Wondering how to protect your vision? These dry eye tips for the upcoming fire season should be used if you’ve noticed smoke, hazy air, or a burning smell in the air.
1. Dry eyes? Apply a lukewarm compress
If your eyes are feeling slightly dry, a warm compress with a clean washcloth or a microwavable eye mask can work wonders. The gentle warmth stimulates the oil glands near your eyes. This helps your eyes produce enough oil to maintain a healthy baseline and what’s known as the “natural tear film.”
The natural tear film is the typically undetectable protective film over each eye. It’s made up of your body’s naturally produced oil, water, and mucus. When your eyes feel dry or itchy, a lack of tear film is often the culprit. Staying hydrated also helps your eyes maintain this protective layer.
2. Consider the quality of your fans and air conditioner
Wildfires impact every aspect of your physical well-being. This can make it tricky to decide when fans and air conditioners are worth using. The hot, stagnant air during fire season has most people cranking their A/C as high as possible.
First, check the filter in your A/C, fans, or air purifier. It’s crucial that these filters be clean, otherwise, ash particles can be pulled into your home—and ultimately, your eyes. Ideally, you’ll want to purchase HEPA filters for each appliance.
3. Use artificial tears daily
Due to the severity of wildfire season across the country, the two tips above may not be enough to completely soothe your dry eyes. If you’re still struggling with discomfort and irritation, you may want to try artificial tears, also known as eye drops.
As a rule of thumb, try to use eye drops that are single-use or preservative-free. These options are less likely to cause further irritation.
It can also be helpful to store the bottle or vials in the fridge. The cooler temperature can make for an even more soothing experience. Typically, artificial tears are safe to use multiple times a day if needed. Avoid rinsing with tap water, as this can negatively affect the chemistry of your tears.
When Should I See An Eye Doctor?
In recent years, wildfires have become so widespread that these tips may not be enough. If you still have persistent eye irritation symptoms after following this guidance, schedule a full eye exam with your local ophthalmologist or optometrist.
During your visit, you may want to ask your doctor about protective goggles or other recommendations to protect your eyes from wildfire smoke and ash.
Alexander Knezevic, MD is an ophthalmologist with the Macy Eye Center in Los Angeles, medical staff at Cedars-Sinai, and a clinical instructor of ophthalmology at UCLA.
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