Impact of wildfire smoke in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on ocular surface

Purpose: To evaluate the acute impact of the wildfire smoke episode in 2008 on the ocular surface of subjects living in the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires (MABA). Methods: A total of 86 subjects were evaluated: Group 1 comprised patients from a public ophthalmology hospital (N=35) and Group 2 comprised healthy volunteers (N=51). All subjects answered a questionnaire on ocular symptoms and underwent ophthalmologic examination [bulbar conjunctival hyperemia, corneal fluorescein staining, rose bengal vital staining, tear break-up time (TBUT), Schirmer I test, tear lysozyme, and impression cytology] during and after the acute episode. Concentrations of carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and particulate matter (PM) were measured before, during, and after the acute episode. Results: Both groups showed a statically significant increase in ocular symptoms and bulbar conjunctival hyperemia and a statically significant decrease in tear break-up time during the acute episode. Group 1 showed more severe symptoms and a statistically significant increase in fluorescein and rose bengal staining intensities during the acute episode. We found a significant negative correlation between ocular symptoms and tear break-up time. During the episode, the levels of CO, NO2, and particulate matter in MABA were four times higher than the usual average levels for the same period in 2007 and 2009. Conclusions: Increased air pollution from the burning of biomass is associated with a decrease in the stability of the tear film (TBUT), generating areas of ocular surface exposure that may be the cause of the increased feeling of irritation. Group 1 was more affected by not having a healthy ocular surface, and thus consulted an ophthalmologist. Cytological changes in the conjunctiva were not observed, which could be due to the short duration of the episode.