As we bring awareness to glaucoma this week, we hope that it will lead to more research, innovation, improved treatments and ultimately a better outcome for people suffering with glaucoma.
It may then, come as a surprise, that when observing World Glaucoma Week, we want to talk about climate change.
The United Nations has stated that climate change is a global emergency. Reports from December 2020 show that global temperatures continue to rise, and extreme temperatures are too common, demonstrated in disasters like the devastating wildfires in Australia and the record number of hurricanes in Central America. Flooding in recent years has led to massive population displacement and food insecurity in parts of Africa and South East Asia.[i] Air pollution levels are at record highs with exposure to air pollution causing 7 million deaths worldwide every year.[ii]
So, what does this all have to do with glaucoma?
In November 2019, researchers from UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital conducted a study on 111,370 participants that showed an association between air pollution and glaucoma. They found that people in neighbourhoods with higher amounts of fine particulate matter pollution are at least 6% more likely to report having glaucoma than those in the least-polluted areas.[iii]
The investigators stated that although most risk factors for glaucoma are out of our control, such as older age or genetics, identifying this second risk factor of air pollution, that can be modified by lifestyle treatment or policy changes, is progress.
Also, climate change events will disrupt access to eye health services and supply chains, both which are essential to the treatment and management of glaucoma. We have seen similar disruptions during the COVID-19 global pandemic, which has given us a small glimpse into how devastating it can be.
Sadly, glaucoma is not the only eye condition associated with climate change. There is evidence there will be a likely increase in trachoma infections, Vitamin A deficiencies, earlier onset and accelerated progression of cataracts, incidences of severe allergic eye disease, and an increase in risk of age-related macular degeneration.
As we raise awareness during World Glaucoma Week, we must also start thinking of climate change as a public health emergency, and that addressing it will have significant benefit to eye health.
[i] World Meteorological Organization. 2020 on track to be one of three warmest years on record.
[ii] World Health Organization. Air pollution. https://www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution
[iii] Sharon Y. L. Chua, Anthony P. Khawaja, James Morgan, Nicholas Strouthidis, Charles Reisman, Andrew D. Dick, Peng T. Khaw, Praveen J. Patel, Paul J. Foster. The Relationship Between Ambient Atmospheric Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) and Glaucoma in a Large Community Cohort. Investigative Opthalmology & Visual Science, 2019; 60 (14): 4915 DOI: 10.1167/iovs.19-28346
Image by Maria Betancourth