Climate change may impair vision,cautions ophthalmic study

| | New Delhi

Long-term climate changes could have adverse effects on eye health and visual impairment-related morbidity, ophthalmologists have warned on the basis of an ongoing countrywide study conducted  by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi.

Considered as the largest study into the link between global warming and eye health in the country, the results for rural areas have come out recently. It shows that there is a high prevalence of dry eye and vernal kerato conjunctivitis (VKC) in rural areas of Guragon, Guwahati and coastal Prakasam district in Andhra Pradesh.

The prevalence of cataract was found in 1,131 participants (31.5 per cent of the sample surveyed) dry eye in 817 people (22.7 per cent) and pterygium (conjunctivitis) in 403 (11.2 per cent) in Gurgaon residents aged above 40 years. In comparison, prevalence of these among Guwahati and Prakasam residents was significantly low, as per the study. Around 185 (5.8 per cent) people were found with dry eye and 293 (9.1 per cent) with VKC in Guwahati. There were just 41 people found with dry eye in the coastal Andhra district. However, the number of people with cataract was much higher in Prakasam, at 1,221 (42 per cent) while dry eye was commonest in Delhi.

The prevalence of VKC among children aged 5-15 years was 0.35 per cent and 0.18 per cent in Gurgaon and Guwahati respectively, as per the study.

 “There was a direct corelation between high pollution levels and dry eye and VKC,” said Dr Radhika Tandon, Professor of Ophthalmology at Dr RP Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences, AIIMS, Delhi on the sidelines of the two-days event ‘Cutting edge technology in Ophthalmology’  inaugurated on Saturday to mark 51st Foundation Day of the Centre.

Longer durations of exposure to bio-mass fuels in kitchen has also been found to be increased risk of cataract at all the three sides, said Tandon, one of the researchers of the study  titled “impact of environmental change and ultra violet radiation (UVR) exposure on the health of eyes.

Soon similar assessment will be undertaken in urban areas too as part of the study which is being funded by the ICMR. “As per study, VKC among children in the rural areas has emerged as an important eye health problem apparently linked with environmental factors,” she pointed out

Vernal keratoconjunctivitis is an allergic conjunctivitis which, if not treated in time, can lead to blindness from corneal complications, including shield ulcer, dry eye and keratoconus.

“This observational study brings to fore, the important links between sun exposure and development of various ocular conditions. Evidence exists that with ozone-depletion, UV exposure is likely to increase,” said Professor Praveen Vashist, Head, Community Ophthalmology Department at the Centre.

The results of the study support community interventions for prevention of cataract such as encouraging the use protective headgear while working outside, he added.

The experts also felt that with high levels of air pollution and rise in temperature, more cases of eye-related ailments are likely to be diagnosed.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) too has noted that of the 18 million people worldwide who have cataract-related diseases, 5 per cent are directly attributable to UV radiation. UVA light, a component of UV radiation, stimulates the over-production of damaging oxygen-free radicals responsible for the clouding of the lens, typical of cataracts.



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