If You Could Only Smoke with Needles Stuck in Your Eyes, Would You Quit?

Posted By Key-Whitman Eye Center || 1-Jun-2015

Marlene

That’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are betting on. In its latest round of "Tips from Former Smokers" commercials, the CDC features Marlene, a former smoker, who is losing her eyesight due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In order to slow her vision loss – and near blindness – Marlene sees her ophthalmologist for drug injections in her eyeballs every month.

Smoking increases your risk for AMD up to 20 times

“While the CDC estimates smokers double their risk for macular degeneration, the Macular Society says smokers who have a genetic predisposition for AMD could be at an eight or even 20 times higher risk for the disease,” says Key-Whitman Eye Center’s Tom Jennings, M.D., an ophthalmologist in Dallas.

AMD is the leading cause of blindness in people ages 60 and above, however smokers and former smokers often experience symptoms of the disease earlier in life. After struggling with declining vision, Marlene was still smoking when she was diagnosed with AMD at age 56. Her doctor told her to quit smoking and recommended the drug injections in her eyes to slow progression of the disease.

According to Dr. Jennings, “Smoking threatens macular health, because it decreases oxygen delivery to the macula, and the free radicals in smoke can cause oxidative stress and damage to the macula as well. In addition, smoking raises a person’s blood pressure, and high blood pressure is another risk factor for macular degeneration. Duke researchers also found the tar in cigarette smoke increases risk for AMD.”

Anti-VEGF injections can be an effective treatment for AMD

With AMD, the very central part of the retina – or macula – deteriorates, and without treatment you can suffer severe vision loss. (Roseanne Barr recently revealed she suffers from AMD and glaucoma.) While getting injections in the eye doesn’t sound pleasant – Marlene’s tip is to look as far away as possible – injections can be effective at slowing the progression of vision loss due to AMD.

“The anti-VEGF agents found in these injections bind to VEGF, which is a protein in the eye that causes both leakage from and proliferation of subretinal vessels. The anti-VEGF agents bind to VEGF, which can decrease leakage from the subretinal vessels and cause the vessels to regress,” explains Dr. Jennings.

There is no cure for AMD, but you may be able to avoid eye injections

According to Dr. Jennings, “While a slew of promising research to cure vision loss continues to emerge, there is no cure for AMD available today. AMD is a chronic disease like diabetes, which requires regular monitoring and treatment, that’s why early detection and treatment is so important.”

If you are at risk for AMD – you’re a current or former smoker AND/OR a family member has the disease – schedule an eye health exam with your eye doctor right away. He or she will screen for AMD (and other eye diseases and conditions) and in many cases may be able to prescribe less invasive treatment options, especially if AMD is diagnosed early.

To learn more:

Read this earlier post on how AREDS2 nutraceuticals help slow AMD:

Vitamin Eye: Can eye supplements improve eye health? And …

Visit the macular degeneration page on Key-Whitman's website for additional information about AMD, the difference between wet AMD and dry AMD, as well as common symptoms and treatment options for AMD.

Photo and Video Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Categories: Eye Health, Glaucoma
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