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The impact of ash on eye health

By Richard Simon

Marketing Manager,

Dust is a combination of small lose particles that is released into the atmosphere by wind or other means, such as man-made or natural activity, including windstorms, volcanoes, or vehicular traffic in a dry environment.

In the Caribbean at this time of year we have 2 dust related issues affecting our environment, one is the annual Sahara dust that brings untold misery to the general population, particularly those suffering from respiratory Illnesses and now, with the La Soufriere Volcano in St. Vincent depositing ash around the southern Caribbean.

So, what is the impact of these two issues on our eye health and how can we protect ourselves from these irritants.

Everyone has had the experience of having a particle of dust or hair enter the eye at one time or another, and the results can range from irritating to painful. It the most extreme situation it may be days of unease, to visits to the optometrist or ophthalmologist to have the situation corrected.

In our current environment, the presence of volcanic ash in the air or on items we use, such as tools, gates, or vehicle door handles etc., is both obvious and concerning. Much as the current Covid-19 guidelines we must continue to observe the requirement to keep our hands away our faces, wash them regularly and not put them in the eye.

Irritation of the eye will be the most obvious initial problem should dust particles get into the eye. But it could be much worse if we do what has become natural in these circumstances. The inclination is to rub the affected eye in a way that can lead to more damage, especially among children. Pieces of grit can act as sandpaper on the eye, causing sometimes serious and sometimes painful scratches to the eye, a situation know as corneal abrasions. It can also lead to conjunctivitis or a reddening of the eye.

Persons wearing contact lens should be especially careful in these conditions to prevent damage to both their eyes and the contact lens. It is preferable, according to Dr. Franklin Mgbemere of ClearVision Eye Center, that these persons resort to eyeglasses.

“In the region we are forced to deal with a high level of dust particles in the air on a regular basis. It is critical that we take the necessary steps to mitigate against any of these natural hazards, which have the potential to be a short-term irritation or inflict longer-term damage to the individual,” Dr Franklin said.

Additionally, depending on the chemicals in the ash, people may experience redness, itching or burning of the eyes. It is always necessary, in these situations to check your eye care specialist to determine the best action to combat these challenges.

These two hazards are occurring while we are struggling with the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The ClearVision recommendation: do not self-medicate or use medications given to other members of the household or friends, as you cannot be sure how different individuals react to a given medication.

And like the COVID 19 Protocols: wash hands often, keep hands from our eyes or face and protect our lungs by making masks a part of the daily dress code, ensuring they cover your nostrils and mouth.

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