Although particulate air pollution is linked with a number of adverse health outcomes, the impact on eye health is not currently well understood. Glaucoma, a disease caused by high intraocular pressure (IOP) and which can lead to vision loss and blindness if untreated, is often associated with factors such as age and genetic predisposition.
However, a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health has probed the link between IOP and black carbon (BC) concentrations in a cohort of older men, in order to investigate the environmental impact of particulate air pollution on the potential development of the disease. BC concentrations over a 1-year period were modelled at the addresses of the study participants, and averaged 0.5 µg m-3 across all participants. Although overall no association was observed between BC concentration and IOP, examining only those men with a predisposition to increased oxidative stress, there was a slight increase in IOP. However, the effect was relatively small and may not be clinically significant.
The levels of BC observed in the study were relatively low and future studies in more polluted areas may provide stronger evidence for an association. Having regular eye check-ups can help spot the disease early, regardless of any environmental factors, especially for at-risk groups such as those with a family history of the disease and diabetes sufferers.