Itchy eyes? Blame the AC

You may have heard of our eyes getting affected by too much screen time but did you know that air-conditioners were equally to blame? With increased hours spent in front of the computers in air conditioned rooms, our eyes seem to suffer a great deal.

There are various conditions that are created by the overuse of air conditioners that seriously affect the human eye. Air-conditioners suck the moisture in the air and reduce humidity that leads to evaporative dry eyes. According to Dr Tanvi Shah, Consultant Ophthalmologist at Masina Hospital, Byculla, Mumbai, long term exposure to AC can alter the lipid production from glands in the eyelids. “This would cause a change in the quality and quantity of tear film that would lead to dry eyes,” she says.

According to Shah, mild dry eyes could lead to grittiness, watering and reddening. Lubricating drops can work as a treatment in this case. In case of serious dryness, continuous water discharge along with scary red eyes look like conjunctivitis. In such cases, further investigation becomes important, including checking the number of Meibomian glands in the eyelids.

In addition to dry eyes, overexposure to ACs, according to Shah, could also lead to bacterial, fungal or viral infections in the eye. “This happens when the ACs are not maintained well because ducts could contain moulds, bacteria and viruses which cause inflammation in the eyes, thus harming them. These could also lead to corneal ulcers, which are a nightmare. In the earlier stages the ulcers could be treated, but later stages might require a corneal transplant too.”

Those individuals who work indoors, predominantly for eight to 10 hours or more, and work on electronics complain of dry eyes. “We have seen an increase in the number of patients reporting dry eyes since the pandemic, because work and education both had predominantly shifted online. About 80- 90 per cent of those who report these problems are people from the younger to the middle age groups, from children and teens to the mid-40s professionals.”

Some ways in which we could minimise and deal with the problems that occur due to the overexposure of human eye to air conditioners include using air conditioners in short spells, avoiding proximity to the AC, maintaining room temperature above 23 degree celsius, wearing glasses instead of lenses that will prevent the air from directly getting into one’s eye, thus, slowing the tears from evaporating.

Dr Shah suggested that one should keep water in containers in the corner of the room which will evaporate and increase the humidity and/or use a humidifier. She laid great emphasis on the maintenance of the AC.

Shah further added that more than television screens, mobile, laptop and tablet screens were badly affecting the eyes. “Every user must wear blue filter glasses to protect the eye from the harmful radiation emanating from the screens. Even those without a refractive error should wear zero-number glasses.”

Shah suggested a few ways to protect the eyes against the harmful radiation emanating from the screens. She said, “One should adjust their computer monitor so it’s about 10-20 degrees (4-5 inches) below their eye level. Looking down keeps one from opening your eyes too wide, which can be drying.” She also spoke about the 20-20-20 rule which implies that every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at something that’s at least 20 feet away from the screen/electronics.

Shah laid emphasis on making crucial lifestyle changes including eating food rich in Omega 3 (like fish), fatty acids that will keep the eye moist and flaxseed oil. Additionally, she suggested that one should maintain body hydration by consuming 2.5 to 3 litres of fluids per day and avoid excess coffee/tea.

“Preventing this problem is in your hands, and the best way to deal with it is by making modifications to your lifestyle,” Shah said.

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