It should be, according to one of the nation’s top ophthalmologists.
“People living in areas such as ours that are prone to natural disasters such as fires, floods and earthquakes need to be aware that not only their health, but their vision could be put at risk during the disaster, as well as afterwards,” explained Sandy T. Feldman, MD, the Medical Director of Clearview Eye & Laser Medical Center in San Diego. “And while most people think of an eye injury as happening as a result of something physical like a blow to the eye area, these very delicate organs can be vulnerable to extreme heat and organisms they are exposed to in the environment.”
While Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented flooding in Texas is not something most Southern Californians worry about, the fact is that floods are one of the most common hazards across the United States. On the other hand, fires such as the recent La Tuna fire outside Los Angeles are very common in our area.
Both can be quite harmful to your eyes. Flood waters are highly likely to be contaminated, because flooding causes an increase in the incidence of water-borne pathogens—including parasites, bacteria, amoeba and viruses—which are not easily detectable but can lead to infections or other complications, even including loss of sight. Other hazardous contaminants in flood waters, such as pesticides and gasoline, not only cause the water to smell and taste strange but can also cause serious eye and vision problems if it gets into your eyes.
“If at all possible, avoid contact with flood waters. If it can’t be avoided, wear protective eye goggles,” says Dr. Feldman. “The same goes for fire areas: Avoid the smoke and if it can’t be done, wear protective eyewear.”
That’s because quickly spreading wildfires not only cause a lot of damage to the environment and ecosystem, but the smoke and the toxins in that smoke can be detrimental to your eyes. Irritation is caused by microscopic particles within the smoke, and long after the smoke has cleared, these particles can remain floating in the air to potentially cause eye problems. Among the more common symptoms are burning sensations, redness, dryness or, conversely, tearing up.
“For both flood and fire, you should be particularly vigilant if you wear contact lenses,” Dr. Feldman advises. “Either wear protective eye goggles or remove your lenses and wear your eyeglasses prior to water exposure. And because you can’t assume tap water is safe, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands with uncontaminated water before handling contact lenses. You should also use lens solution, not water, to wash or store them.”
While over-the-counter eye drops or artificial tears and/or cold compresses should solve many of the eye irritations associated with disasters like these, Dr. Feldman notes that you should contact your eye care professional immediately if you experience any of the following conditions:
Red and irritated eyes lasting for an unusually long period of time
Pain in and around the eyes—especially if it progressively worsens
Sensitivity to light
Sudden blurred or fuzzy vision
Excessive eye tearing or discharge
About Sandy T. Feldman, MD
Sandy T. Feldman, MD is the Medical Director of Clearview Eye & Laser Medical Center—voted best LASIK center in San Diego by CityBeat Magazine for the second year in a row—and has successfully performed more than 20,000 refractive procedures. Her numerous awards include “Top Doc San Diego” and the Goldline Award, an honor granted to only 10 laser eye care providers in the U.S. each year, and she has been profiled in Forbes, Newsweek, and other respected publications. Dr. Feldman is a fellow of the prestigious American College of Ophthalmic Surgeons, as well as a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery. For more information, please visit clearvieweyes.com[clearvieweyes.com].