Domino effect: How climate change, UV rays can impact eye health

By Dr. Jimmy Mittal
July 10, 2022, Updated on : Mon Jul 11 2022 16:18:11 GMT+0000
Domino effect: How climate change, UV rays can impact eye health
The eyes are one of the most unique organs of the body. Since the organ is exposed directly to the environment, any changes in weather, climate, dry conditions, and pollution can affect it.
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The effects of climate change are evident across the globe. With extreme occurrences of melting glaciers, severe droughts, frequent storms, and deadly wildfires, climate change is leaving a long-lasting and devastating mark on our environment.

While environmental changes may be easy to notice, how climate change affects human health remains mostly unnoticeable.

Eye health has become a major concern due to the rising levels of air pollution and environmental degradation. Global warming is contributing to the early outset and progression of cataracts as the ozone layer gradually depletes and the harmful UV rays cause ocular damage.


The change in rainfall pattern is causing droughts and floods, affecting the growth of crops. This is expected to increase food security and cause Vitamin A deficiency leading to a rise in trachoma infection. Similarly, rising levels of air pollution are significantly increasing the burden of eye-related diseases like age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, dry eyes, and allergic eye diseases.


As climate change accelerates, it becomes all the more important to take appropriate measures and shield the eyes from environmental damage.

Climate change

How environmental change can impact eyes

The eyes are one of the most unique organs of the body susceptible to developing diseases resulting from environmental factors. Since the organ is exposed directly to the environment, any changes in weather, climate, dry conditions, and pollution can affect it. 


Many of us are aware of the fact that increasing levels of greenhouse gases are depleting the ozone layer. As a result, ultraviolet (UV) radiation is increasingly creating adverse impacts on the eyes. A 2003 WHO report revealed that increased ultraviolet radiation levels can lead to eye snow blindness (sunburn on the eye), lesions (such as cataracts), pterygium, acute photokeratitis and photo conjunctivitis, macular degeneration, acute solar retinopathy (solar burn to the retina), and various other serious conditions.

Overexposure to UV rays can also result in premature ageing of the natural lens of the eyes, causing early-onset presbyopia. The condition is most prevalent in areas that are closer to the equator where the sun's rays are naturally stronger.

UV rays can also be associated with squamous cell carcinomas, cutaneous melanoma, and basal cell carcinomas. Squamous cell carcinoma not just can affect the skin but also the conjunctiva and spread to the cornea and inside of the eyes. In certain cases, it may necessitate the removal of the whole eye.


Climatic change can also lead to erratic weather patterns with both decrease and increase in typical temperatures. In areas where the temperatures are extremely high, people are often seen suffering from conditions like dry eyes. What’s more significant is that traffic-related pollution of air exposes people to ambient carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide which can increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). A study of eleven years involving 40,000 Taiwanese residents showed that AMD can cause severe and at times, permanent vision loss, usually in people who are 60 years or above.

Importance of patient education

There is an immediate need to appreciate and understand the urgency of climatic changes and how they can be detrimental to eye health. It is crucial to communicate this urgency to change the behaviour of people and prevent a catastrophic onset of eye diseases in the future. 


Efficiently communicating the ill effects of climate change on eye health within communities can lead to better knowledge and improved service uptake. To deliver promotion and education within integrated eyecare, healthcare providers can utilise more community-centred or people-centred design approaches, understanding that people are the co-producers of health in a nation, not just beneficiaries, users or choosers.

Eye health programmes in schools carried out by training teachers to impart knowledge about the adverse effect of climate change on eye health can also go a long way in making people aware. 

The solution to tackle the rising number of eye health issues resulting from climate change lies in increasing awareness and utilising the simple, available and safe services that exist. One in three people in India suffers from vision issues simply due to the lack of awareness and access to quality eye care. It is critical to break down these barriers and encourage people to seek good eye care and periodically get their eyesight checked. 


While economies around the world, including India, commit to making the future more sustainable and greener for the coming generations through various initiatives, the negative effects of climate change on eye health shouldn’t be ignored. If we are to stop eye diseases from becoming the next big concern, a cohesive effort is required from every stakeholder to prevent the progression of eye diseases across the world.


Edited by Kanishk Singh

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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