Itchy Eyes Fort Collins Forest Fire Smoke-Again!
Just before lunch I looked up the reason for the smoke on the Fort Collins horizon while visiting the St. Peter’s Fly Shop. About 40 acres were listed as burning around Lory State Park. During lunch the number was revised to 200 acres. By the time I got home the Galena Fire had reached 800 acres in size. I don’t think we will see anything resembling the 87,000 acre High Park fire from last summer. We can count it as a small blessing that it is still March and the nights cool off helping control forest fires. This would be infinitely worse in August! There is reportedly another small fire by Laporte. Larimer County Road 38e had traffic backed up when I drove by in the evening, presumably to help evacuations from the area. According to the Larimer County Sheriffs Office there are road blocks at Lodgepole and Co. Rd 23 on the north end of the fire and at Shoreline Drive and 38E and Skyline and 38E on the south part of the fire evacuation area. On the south end, people,are being allowed in with escorts to retrieve medicines, people and animals but cannot stay in their residences until the evacuation is lifted. At this time there is absolutely no information or guesses as to when that will be. You can check for updates at the Larimer County website.
Redness In Eye Is Not Always From Eye Allergies
The red, uncomfortable eyes from forest fires are not a true allergy. Forest fire smoke falls into the category of a chemical irritant. Chemical irritants that affect the eyes include some soaps, many beauty products (such as make-up, lotions, perfumes), household cleaners, and smoke (including cigarette smoke and forest fire smoke). Smoke is produced by the rapid breakdown of vegetation from the heat. Forest fire smoke is composed of gasses and very fine particulate matter. The gasses include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, water vapor, and other unhealthy gases like benzene. These are more of concern to the firefighters who have a much higher exposure. The particles are all very small but the larger ones are the ones that irritate the eyes (and the sinuses & throat). They are largely responsible for the red eyes, swollen eyes and eye irritation. This is from the dilation of the blood vessels in the conjunctiva tissue covering the white part of the eyes and the inside layer of the eyelids. There is also dilation of the lymph channels in the transparent conjunctival tissue. The smaller particles can pass into the lungs and then into the bloodstream. They are more of a concern to people who have asthma, pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and heart problems. Both type of particles are scattered across the ground by winds and can cause problems for months after a large forest fire. True eye allergies result in the release of histamine that is the culprit for itchy, red eyes. Histamine is released on exposure to an allergen (a small protein foreign to the body). No histamine is released on the eyes from forest fire smoke. Some people who have pre-existing allergies will have their eye allergies (and sinus allergies) aggravated by forest fires.
Eye Redness Treatment For Chemical Irritants In Smoke
Eye problems from forest fires will usually not respond very well to eye allergy drops. Pink eye treatment and the treatment of eye infections vary from what is needed for smoke and other chemical irritants. The first step in treatment is removal from the smoke if at all possible. This includes washing bodies, clothing, carpets, etc. Wet mopping a floor is a much better option since sweeping tends to stir up the particulate matter and any allergens that are in the house. Washing the pillow covers and your hair (which accumulates particles during the day) can significantly reduce symptoms. A HEPA type air filter can help if you have one. Keeping the eyes irrigated with artificial tears throughout the day helps remove the offending irritants. Cold compresses can provide some symptomatic relief and may help lessen the redness by constricting blood vessels. Other steps you may want to consider:
- Running your air conditioner to help filter the air
- Closing windows to reduce particulates from outside
- Having your pets sleep outside of the bedroom if they spend time outdoors
- Make sure you have a H.E.P.A filter type of vacuum cleaner
- Stay indoors as much as you can
- Keep your car windows up when driving
- Wearing glasses will reduce the amount of particles reaching your eyes
Your eye doctor will prescribe some eye medications if the symptoms are severe enough. Some very unhealthy air pollution comes out of forest fires (carbon monoxide, benzene and others). For the most part, the serious levels of exposure are limited to forest fighters. People with pre-existing conditions that render them more at risk from the particulate matter need to take precautions. Eye symptoms from wildfire smoke are usually more of an irritant (literally) than a serious threat to your eyesight. For this Fort Collins optometrist seeing the eye symptoms from the wildfire smoke is becoming an all to regular thing. Lets hope the summer is rainy!