Eye Health: Watch that Haze

Ipoh Echo’s EYE HEALTH series continues with Consultant Eye Surgeon Dr S.S. GILL talking to us about the current AIR POLLUTION, which has an effect on our eyes and general health.

The current haze has reached catastrophic proportions regionally. Sadly, the long-term HEALTH IMPLICATIONS of air pollution has not been highlighted enough. The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) under WHO has classified outdoor air pollution as a carcinogen (cancer-causing). I shudder when I think of the fact that every person and creature in this region has been exposed to large quantities of these unnecessary avoidable pollutants 24 hours a day, to various levels for so many weeks.

There is also no doubt that air pollution causes eye irritation, acute (or subacute) corneal (superficial keratitis) and conjunctival inflammation (conjunctivitis) by altering the pH of the tears.


Air quality in Malaysia is reported as API (Air Pollution Index) and this measures carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3) and PM10 (particles that are 10 micrometres or less in width).

The gold standard today is PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) which also measures PM2.5 or particles that are 2.5 micrometres in width. The reason it is important to measure the particles that measure 2.5 micrometres affect more people worldwide than any other pollutant according to the WHO (World Health Organization). Particles of 2.5 micrometres don’t get filtered and affect the respiratory and cardiovascular systems because they can penetrate the deepest parts of the lungs where gas exchange into blood occurs.

In contrast, the larger particles of 10 micrometres just irritate the eyes, nose and throat but eventually mostly get filtered off.


  • Discomfort or stinging – Redness – Photophobia in some cases
  • Tearing (lacrimation) – Dryness – Inability to tolerate contact lens wear


  1. Keep track of the latest air quality updates regularly to plan your activities.
  2. Avoid OUTDOOR sports and exercises.
  3. Keep windows and doors closed.
  4. Use an air purifier if you have one. Keep the air conditioner running.
  5. Drink lots of water; eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.


  • Flush the eyes out with artificial tear lubricant eye drops if they get irritated.
  • Avoid contact lens wear if it is too hazy.
  • Minimise exposure to the irritants by modifying your activities appropriately.
  • See an eye doctor if the symptoms persist.
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