College of Optometry Professors Offer Tips to Protect Eyes During Smoky Wildfire Season

buckinghamWith air quality throughout Oregon and much of the West having deteriorated as a result of a prolific wildfire season, many in the area find their eyes watering and burning, in addition to experiencing respiratory issues caused by the smoky air.

Pacific University College of Optometry Professor Tad Buckingham '92, OD '94, also the college's clinical attending doctor and Forest Grove Fire & Rescue Division Chief, has spent several wildfire seasons on the front lines, both battling blazes and helping those experiencing vision problems resulting from smoke exposure.

"It's not uncommon for smoke to have a 'whirlpool effect,' swirling through communities for prolonged periods of time," Buckingham recently told the American Optometric Association. "This exacerbates discomfort and hits those with borderline ocular disease problems hardest."

tracy_dollBuckingham's colleague Tracy Doll '03, OD '06 concurs. She oversees Pacific's Dry Eye Solutions program for Pacific EyeClinics, one of the only clinics in the region that focuses on managing and treating the condition, which can worsen when air quality is poor. Dr. Doll spoke with Portland NBC affiliate KGW and FOX affiliate KPTV about how to care for your eyes during times like these.

Specifically, Drs. Doll and Buckingham advise taking extra precautions when air quality is poor, including:

  • Limiting outdoor exposure when smoke and pollution is highest, typically in the afternoon through early evening.
  • If you must go outside, use non-preservative eye drops before and after you go outside. And be sure to wear sunglasses, even if it doesn't seem as bright as usual. The eyes are still exposed to the sun's powerful UV rays, and sunglasses also shield the eyes from the microscopic air particulates.
  • Make sure air conditioners are set to recirculate air, and point the vents or fans away from yourself, as they can also dry out eyes, especially during sleep.
  • Limit the use of smartphones or tablets, which can keep you from from blinking regularly. For children, put a limit on screen time and have kids take breaks every 15 minutes or so.
  • Consult your optometrist on palliative self-care options, including ointments, artificial tears, cold compress and gently cleaning eye lids prior to bedtime, as well as more aggressive treatments if eye discomfort worsens.
  • Practice good contact lens hygiene.

The Pacific University College of Optometry was originally founded in 1921 as the North Pacific College of Optometry. It became part of Pacific University and the Forest Grove Campus in 1945, and produces comprehensive practitioners with expertise in general optometry, contact lenses, low vision, vision therapy, sports vision and ocular disease. The college has been named the 2018 Optometry School of the Year by the National Optometric Association.

Founded in 1849, Pacific University is a diverse learning community offering a unique combination of undergraduate, graduate and professional programs in the arts and sciences, education, business, optometry and the health professions.

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Aug. 21, 2018