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Eyes Irritated by Summer Smoke? Here's What to Do

Smoke from summer wildfires raging throughout the west can travel hundreds of miles. And with it comes invisible micron-size particles that wreak havoc on our health and float in the atmosphere long after the smoke has cleared.

In addition to their harmful effects on breathing, these particles may land and stick in our eyes, causing burning sensations, tearing, and redness. For those with dry eye syndrome, it’s even worse.

What Does Wildfire Smoke do to Your Eyes? 

John A. Moran Eye Center ophthalmologist Susan Chortkoff, MD, explains, “Tears consist of a balance of water, oil, and protein. Generally, they lubricate our eyes and provide important protection from dirt, dust, and infection, but a disruption in the balance can cause real problems. Gases and particulates in the smoke can cause real discomfort and sometimes, blurred vision.”

Tips to Prevent or Treat Irritation Caused by Smoke in Your Eyes

Chortkoff offers several suggestions for dealing with summer smoke:

  • If you’re in an area affected by wildfires or even within hundreds of miles, stay indoors and reduce the smoke in your home.
  • Close windows, turn on central air conditioning (with a clean filter), use humidifiers in the spaces where you spend the most time, and use a HEPA air purifier if you have one.
  • Refresh your eyes with artificial tears up to several times a day (and keep the drops in the refrigerator for extra effect). Avoid rinsing your eyes with tap water, as it can change the chemical makeup of your tears.
  • Rest with a soft, cold washcloth on closed eyelids.
  • Wear goggles or wraparound glasses or sunglasses.

 If eye irritation lasts longer than a few days or if your vision becomes blurry, Chortkoff suggests contacting your ophthalmologist.

“Moderate to severe dryness may cause damage to the conjunctiva—the membrane that covers the front of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelid. It can also damage the surface cells of the cornea, so pay extra attention to any blurriness and talk to your doctor about it.”