The Impacts of Climate Change on Eye Health

The impacts of climate change on the environment as well as on social, economic, and political structures are wide ranging and diverse. Here we call attention to its effects on eye health. You may be wondering: does climate change really have an effect on eye health? Yes, it does.

Spotlight on Climate Challenges & Eye Health

As temperatures get warmer, the increased heat aggravates challenges like pollution and contaminated water, creating more risk of irritated eyes and blinding diseases.

Research finds that many current eye problems are exacerbated by increased pollutants in the air, which are likely to worsen with global warming. Increases in airborne particles from wildfires, pollution and other natural phenomena can also be associated with damages to vision, such as scarring the eye’s corneas. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) found that ozone depletion has a direct correlation with several eye diseases, primarily cataracts. According to the WHO, ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure from the sun increases with loss of the ozone layer, and an estimated 10 percent of cataract cases are the result of chronic UV radiation overexposure. UV exposure may also be involved in the development of age-related macular degeneration, as well as photokeratitis (inflammation of the cornea) and photo conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva).

In addition to increased UV exposure, especially for people living near the equator, climate change can negatively impact the quality of water and the availability of clean water supplies. Areas in the world that are already vulnerable to poor water quality will be further affected, and this can have a direct impact on eye health. 

Trachoma, one of the leading causes of avoidable blindness, is caused by a bacterial infection that is easily spread and commonly found in communities that have limited access to clean water and adequate sanitation. Contaminated water is also a breeding ground for water-related insects that transmit diseases, like onchocerciasis (river blindness), which can also lead to blindness.

Access to Eye Health Services is Essential

Climate change is making it even more urgent for people to have access to quality eye care. Access to comprehensive eye care services will enable more people to seek information and treatment for their eye conditions, restoring sight in the cases of blinding diseases that can be reversed, like trachoma and cataract.

For over 40 years, OPC has provided access to inclusive, sustainable eye care for vulnerable communities in Francophone Africa. OPC also helps advocate for eye health care systems on the government level, working with Ministries of Health to strengthen their eye health care programs, as well as on the local level training community eye health workers.

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