Any kind of smoke can be damaging to our eyes (and it can be difficult to avoid in day-to-day life), but it’s bonfire season that many eye specialists consider to be the most challenging time in terms of potential problems. We’re not suggesting you curtail your fun or lock yourself away inside to prevent encountering any danger, but it’s very important to make sure you take all the necessary precautions so you don’t risk discomfort or, worse, permanent damage to your eyes.
Coping With Smoky Situations
You might be surprised just how commonly we can come into contact with smoke on a regular basis. In the summer, particularly, all those barbecues, mingling with smokers in social situations, wildfires and people burning off garden waste can be a bit of a menace for eye health. It can be hard to avoid, though, particularly as we tend to be outdoors a lot more in the warmer months.
While it’s also not great for our lungs, exposure to smoke can lead to all kinds of problems and irritations, including watery eyes, redness, stinging, swelling, burning and even temporary vision problems. For anyone with pre-existing conditions or allergies it can have even more serious ramifications.
So, what’s the answer to this smoky situation? Apart from the obvious (doing your best to avoid it), keeping windows shut, maintaining air filters and wearing protective eye gear can help. Even making sure you keep your spectacles or sunglasses on at all times will go some way to lessening the problem. In a more serious situation (like burning off or wildfires), proper safety glasses are your best bet to counter the effects of large volumes of smoke.
If you find yourself affected by smoke, above all do not rub your eyes, as this will worsen the situation. Wet a flannel in iced water, place on your closed eyelids and then use anti-inflammatory eye drops.
Danger from Fireworks
The statistics for the number of people whose eyesight is damaged or lose their vision altogether as a result of fireworks in the UK bonfire season are fairly horrifying:
Every year more than 300 people suffer serious injuries and 10 lose their sight.
Almost half occur at private gatherings and nearly 75% of these are adults.
Any firework in the wrong hands can be a dangerous weapon, and while rockets are one of the more common culprits, the humble and seemingly quite innocuous sparkler is not far behind - burning at a temperature that’s actually hot enough it could melt gold!
It’s not practical or realistic to say that fireworks are dangerous and should simply be banned. The key is to be sensible, responsible and follow some basic tips to keep yourself and those around you safe.
Only buy approved fireworks: First and foremost you should ensure that the fireworks you purchase carry the British Standards mark on the outside of the box (‘BS’ followed by a number).
Light responsibly: Firstly make sure the area around which you’re setting them off is clear of flammable objects or matter - including foliage. Keep everything in a closed metal box before lighting and only light one at a time. Read the instructions thoroughly (keep a torch in your pocket or handy at all times) and follow them to the letter. Make sure you have a supply of tapers on hand to light them.
Tip: You can also go online and check out the Fireworks Code to make sure you stay safe.
Protect your eyes: Whenever you’re handling fireworks you should wear approved safety goggles or eyegear. This isn’t the time to be cool and fashionable - safety glasses are used for a very good reason, because they keep out any residual or airborne debris.
Stay at a safe distance: If you’re the one lighting the firework, once you’ve lit it, move away to a safe distance until it explodes. (Around 25 metres is recommended.) Do NOT approach it if it doesn’t explode. Throw unexploded or misfired fireworks into a bucket of water that you have prepared before you start.
Note: If you’re at a public display and you encounter an unexploded firework you should not approach it, but call the fire brigade immediately.
Sparkler tips: Sparklers are great fun, but their jolly reputation shouldn’t mean you let your guard down. Anyone using sparklers should wear gloves as they get extremely hot, as previously mentioned. For this reason they should never be handed out to children under the age of five. As soon as a sparkler burns out you should plunge them into a bucket of water that you have to hand.
If Injuries Occur
If you or anyone around you sustains injuries from fireworks you should seek medical attention urgently. The faster medical help is administered, the more likely long term damage may be minimised. In the meantime it’s very important you don’t rinse, rub or apply topical ointments to the eyes, or the area around them. Doing any of this can exacerbate the problem and make it very hard to treat by the professionals.
Have fun this bonfire season, but stay safe!
Here at David Paul Opticians we’re here for more than just getting new glasses and we provide a holistic service to our customers. Don’t hesitate to get in touch to make an appointment and we’ll be happy to discuss and offer advice on any products and eye-health issues.