• Can Pollution Cause Sight Loss?

Air Clean Up

Can Pollution Cause Sight Loss?

Mar 02 2021

Prolonged exposure to air pollution could increase the risk of suffering from irreversible sight loss, according to a new study from the University College London (UCL). Published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, the research surveyed over 100,000 people over a prolonged period and concluded that those who lived in areas of poor air quality were 8% more likely to lose their eyesight in their later years.

The findings represent just one more negative outcome associated with air pollution, adding to a laundry list of complaints that are believed to be directly or indirectly linked with poor air quality. As well as causing or exacerbating a wide variety of health complications, air pollution is also thought to be responsible for the premature deaths of at least seven million people across the world each year.

An eye-opening study

The study first began in 2006, when 115,000 volunteers with no previous medical history of eyesight issues enrolled in research being conducted by the UCL. Over the course of the study period, they were asked to report back on any diagnoses of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the main cause of blindness in those aged 50 and over in developed nations. They were also tested on their eyesight ability several years after the study began.

At the conclusion of the study period, a total of 1,286 of the original participants reported being diagnosed with AMD, which represents 1.1% of the sample group. By cross-referencing these findings against particulate matter (PM) monitoring data over the study period, the authors were able to conclude that exposure to high levels of PM had resulted in a person being 8% more likely to contract AMD. Due to its observational nature, the study was not able to provide a definitive causal link between the two phenomena, but it adds to the mounting evidence that poor air quality has a variety of ill effects on the human body.

An unseen killer

Published at the end of January, the study came just a single week after another piece of research estimated that 50,000 European lives could be saved each year if concentrations of harmful pollutants like PM were brought to the levels recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In many European countries, PM concentrations regularly exceed the designated “safe” levels as determined by the WHO and the EU, while more still simply do not have adequate particulate matter sensing technology in place.

The latest UCL study will just add more fuel to the fire for those campaigning for governments to implement stricter legislation and introduce concrete measures aimed at curbing PM levels, especially in urban locations where large populations are often concentrated. AMD is a particularly concerning ailment for everyone since our sight is so dear to us, but experts predict the condition will afflict some 300 million people worldwide by 2040.


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