By: Dr Tushar Grover, Medical Director, Vision Eye Centre, New Delhi
The fun-filled Holi festival is around the corner. With gulal, colours, water guns and water balloons all set to form an integral part of the celebrations which are only likely to get even wilder and more boisterous on the actual day, the temptation to get carried away by the occasion is all too strong. And amid all the excitement, we might just take in colours and material through various organs such as eyes, nose, ears, mouth etc without realizing it. While generally we are more careful about our mouths and even noses, we often tend to think that the colours are only superficially affecting the surface of the eyes and not really getting inside.
However in reality, some part of the colour or other material more often than not does manage to ‘steal into’ our eyes impacting this extremely sensitive organ. Because of the noisy and the spirited nature of the celebrations, those wearing contact lenses might even forget that they are actually wearing lenses making it harder for themselves and their eyes. The increased use of synthetic colours instead of natural colour in recent years makes it even more critical for people wearing contact lenses to be watchful.
How Holi impacts your eye health
The sheer unruly and unrestrained nature of Holi celebrations makes it almost inevitable that there is some degree of damage, howsoever mild or limited, to the health of our eyes. From minor irritations and abrasions to redness and itching to allergies to infections to inflammation of eye parts, the vigorous and energetic act of playing with colours entails a substantial health cost for our eyes.
The harmful ingredients used in Holi colours
Most of the colours going around today usually are synthetic in nature containing toxic material such as industrial dyes and other harmful chemicals. Some of the other harmful ingredients being used in coloured pastes today include lead oxide, copper sulphate, aluminium bromide, Prussian Blue and Mercury Sulphite. Similarly, dry colours and gulal contain asbestos, silica, lead, chromium, cadmium, and others, all of which are detrimental to eye health.
How Holi colours affect contact lenses and therefore the eyes
For those wearing contact lenses, they should know that the lenses absorb colours. And so the colours tend to stick to the surface of the lens thereby prolonging their stay within the eyes. And given that most of these colours contain toxic chemicals, the resultant impact on eyes can be severe. The chemicals can damage or even lead to loss of epithelium, the protective covering for cornea which can have spillover effects on other eye parts. For instance, the iris of the eye can experience serious inflammation.
What should you do if you wear contact lenses on the festival of Holi?
First, take your contact lenses off before joining in the Holi celebrations.
Second, if you must use contact lenses and the using of which happens to be unavoidable, you can use disposable daily wear lenses. However, remember to wear new lenses once the celebrations are over.
Third, even if you are wearing daily disposable lenses, don’t allow any powder colour or paste to get into your eyes.
Fourth, if you have forgotten to take your lenses off and at the slightest feeling that the eyes may have taken in chemicals from the colours, you must discard the lenses immediately and get new ones which are meant for daily use only. Remember never to try cleaning the same lens and continue wearing it.
Fifth, if possible use glasses as a substitute for contact lenses. This is because glasses maintain a distance from the actual eyes unlike lenses.
Sixth, if any colour has entered your eyes, immediately wash them with clean water without rubbing your eyes.
Seventh, before going out to play Holi, you could consider applying cold cream around your eyes which would help get the colour scrape off easily from the outer surface of the eyes.