How Smoking Affects the Health of Your Eyes
Contrary to what people believed in the 1950s, we now know that smoking
kills. But smoking doesn’t only harm you by damaging your lungs and
heart; smoking and tobacco exposure affect the rest of your body too.
In fact, smoking can increase your risk for developing many
types of eye diseases and disorders. Due to the thousands of
chemicals that act as irritants and carcinogens, smoking can
disrupt blood flow, causing serious damage to the eyes. Who’s at
risk? Heavy smokers and ex-smokers who have smoked for multiple
years are at risk of eye damage from these serious disorders.
AMD (acronym for age-related
macular degeneration) is defined as a condition that gradually destroys
the macula. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association
regular smokers have more than double the risk of non-smokers
ofdeveloping macular degeneration – a condition from which more than 10
million Americans now suffer. People who have smoked in the past have
three times the risk of non-smokers of having a more severe form of
macular degeneration. Interestingly, drinking wine in moderate amounts
seems to lower a person’s risk of developing the disease.
In much the same way that alcohol affects the eyes,
smoking can cause chronic redness of your eyes. Tobacco smoke, even
passive smoke inhaled by children, can alter the tear film of the eyes,
exacerbating dry eye syndrome and allergies. Dry eye syndrome is more
than twice as likely to affect smokers as non-smokers.
Cataracts are characterized by a clouding of the lens in the eye
that causes dimmed, blurry or distorted vision. Smoking may increase
your risk for developing cataracts or clouding of the lenses, causing
the condition to occur much earlier and possibly much more severely than
in people who do not smoke. Smoking reduces the supply of antioxidants
in our eyes, which may lead to cataracts. Smokers are three times as
likely to develop the variety of cataract that’s the most
vision-threatening and twice as likely to get a less disabling form of
Optic Nerve Damage
The optic nerve is
responsible for transmitting visual information from the retina to the
brain. The chemicals in tobacco can increase the risk of developing a
condition known as toxic optic neuropathy, which is characterized by
progressive and painless vision loss. Individuals who smoke, drink
heavily and eat a poor diet can also develop a condition called
tobacco-alcohol amblyopia. According to the Merck Manuals Online Medical
Library, this condition initially causes blurring and dimming of vision.
A small but growing spot of vision loss called a scotoma may then
develop centrally or peripherally, and progressively interfere with
vision.There is some light at the end of the tunnel – when you stop
using nicotine products, your vision can improve, as can your
circulation. So remember, when you’re creating your list of reasons to
quit, don’t forget to add protecting your vision near the top!