By Dr. Harry Bohnsack,
President, Canadian Association of Optometrists
The impact of climate change on health is all too real.
While we hear more about its impact on respiratory and cardiovascular disease, it also has an impact on eye health and vision care.
Many aspects of our environment can have health impacts on our eyes, including pollution, extreme temperatures, bacteria and even smoking.
However, it is the increase in ultraviolet (UV) radiation, thanks to depleted ozone levels and warmer temperatures, that has perhaps the most immediate impact.
In 1987, there was an international agreement (the Montreal Protocol) among all countries that are part of the United Nations to protect the earth’s ozone layer through the phasing out of ozone-depleting substances; those used in refrigeration, air conditioning and aerosols, among others.
This is certainly a positive development, however, the experts suggest that it will take until the middle of this century for the effects to be realized.
In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a study that confirmed that ozone depletion was responsible for a number of eye health issues, including photokeratitis (inflammation of the cornea), photo conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva) and cataracts and subsequent research confirmed these findings.
While all of this sounds quite dire, the good news is that the effects of UV radiation are cumulative, so there are simple steps that can be taken at a young age to prevent the kind of damage UV radiation can cause, including not staring directly at the sun, staying out of the sun when its rays are strongest, wearing hats with brims and sunglasses that are 100 per cent UV blockers.
Glasses and lens manufacturers are also trying to do their part to respond to the realities of climate change.
For example, Bausch + Lomb partnered with a company called TerraCycle on the Every Contact Counts Recycling Program, which reduces landfill waste by recycling both contact lenses and their packaging.
Johnson & Johnson Vision’s ACUVUE has a sustainability program that is addressing greenhouse gas emissions and its carbon footprint.
CooperVision entered a partnership with Plastic Bank for the first plastic neutral contact lens.
In addition to an environmental commitment by lens manufacturers, there are increasing numbers of more eco-friendly frame manufacturers, which use more environmentally conscious materials such as wood, bamboo, cork, recycled metals and plant-based oil derivatives.
A note of caution about acetate eyeglass products: while more eco-friendly than others, they aren’t certifiably biodegradable because while much of their content does come from tree pulp, acetate includes additives which are toxic to the environment.
We have but one environment and we all have a role to play in keeping it, and ourselves within it, healthy.