Cooking with solid fuels such as charcoal and wood poses a significant risk to the eyes. Long-term exposure to the smoke can cause conjunctivitis and cataracts that can even lead to total vision loss.
Summer is often the time for barbecues. This cooking method is not without danger and can lead to long-term burns, poisoning, or even cancer. For those who cook with charcoal or wood, this can lead to another problem. According to a study published July 29 in the journal PLOS Medicine, these cooking methods can lead to serious eye diseases, including blindness.
Half of the world’s population affected
The findings are important because about half of the world’s population, about 3.8 billion people, are exposed to air pollution from cooking with solid fuels such as coal and wood. To understand the effects of solid fuel cooking on the body, researchers from Peking University, in collaboration with scientists from Oxford University in the United Kingdom, analyzed nearly half a million Chinese adults from the China Kadoorie Biobank database.
The researchers asked participants about their dietary habits using a questionnaire and then tracked hospitalizations for serious eye diseases by linking them to health insurance records. During the 10-year follow-up period, study participants experienced 4,877 cases of conjunctival disease; 13,408 cases of cataracts,1,583 disorders of sclera, cornea, iris, and ciliary body disease (DSCIC), and 1,534 cases of glaucoma. Compared with those who cooked with clean fuels such as electricity or gas, those who cooked with solid fuels were more likely to be older, female, rural, less skilled farm workers and regular smokers.
Particulate matter, sparks, and dust as causes
After controlling for other risk factors, the researchers concluded that long-term use of solid fuels for cooking was associated with a higher risk of eye disease. Specifically, they found a 32% increased risk of conjunctivitis, a 17% increased risk of cataracts, and a 35% increased risk of DSCIC compared with those who cooked with clean fuels. There was little difference between the different types of solid fuels. There was also no association with an increased risk of glaucoma.
“The increased risk could be due to high exposure to particulate matter (PM2.5) and carbon monoxide, which can damage the ocular surface and cause inflammation,” said Dr. Peter Ka Hung Chan, lead author of the study. According to the researchers, burning wood also increases the risk of eye injury from sparks or wood dust. in light of these facts, it would be wise to always wear protective eye gear when dealing with open fires.