Smoking is a preventable cause of multiple diseases and health conditions.
People who smoke are at greater risk of fatal health consequences such
as heart disease and cancer, but they are also at a higher risk of vision
problems. In fact, smokers are up to four times more likely to go blind
in old age compared to non-smokers.
Cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, dry eyes-- each
of these eye conditions can be caused by or worsened by smoking. Choosing
to quit smoking (or never to start smoking) can significantly reduce the
risk of vision loss.
Smokers aren’t the only ones at risk of vision damage or loss caused
by smoke, however. Second-hand smoke can cause vision-related problems
for non-smokers too, including children.
How does smoking cause eye disease?
Smoking irritates the eyes by releasing chemicals into the lungs that travel
through the bloodstream into the eyes. It restricts blood flow to the
eyes and reduces the number of antioxidants. Antioxidants are critical
in fighting disease and illness.
5 vision problems caused or worsened by smoking
Cataracts. Cataracts (a clouding of the lens of the eye) are the leading cause of blindness
in the world, and cause visual impairment for more than three million
people in the US. Studies show that smokers are twice as likely to develop
cataracts as non-smokers.
Diabetic retinopathy is a condition in the back of the eye, caused by diabetes, which can lead
to a significant loss of vision as a result of damage to the blood vessels
in the retina. It is one of the most frequent causes of retinal blindness
in the world. More than five million Americans over age 40 have diabetic
retinopathy and the CDC estimates that number will reach 16 million by
2050. Smoking can double one’s risk of developing diabetes, but
it can also increase chances of developing diabetic retinopathy for people
who have already been diagnosed with diabetes.
Macular degeneration. Macular degeneration affects the center of the retina, and causes blind spots in vision or
total vision loss. Studies show that smokers are three times more likely
to develop macular degeneration than people who have never smoked.
Dry eyes. Tobacco irritates the eye, which can cause or worsen
dry eyes, even for non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke. Dry eye syndrome
results from insufficient tear production. Tears are necessary to keep
the eyes lubricated and prevent infection. Smokers are twice as likely
to develop dry eyes.
Premature birth and infant eye disease. When a woman smokes during her pregnancy, toxins from the cigarettes are
passed to the placenta. Smoking significantly increases chances of premature
birth, as well as fetal and infant eye problems such as crossed-eyes and
underdevelopment of the optic nerve, which can cause blindness. Premature
babies are more likely to have eye problems than babies who are born at
Are you ready to stop smoking? The good news for smokers is that it’s
never too late to quit smoking. If you stop smoking today, you may significantly
reduce your risk of developing serious eye diseases that could cause vision
loss. Why risk your health and your vision by smoking? If you need help
to stop smoking, check out
these resources from the American Cancer Society.
If you are currently, have been previously or are exposed frequently to
second-hand smoke, schedule an appointment with the eye experts at Key-Whitman for an
eye exam. Early detection of an eye condition may mean the difference between vision
loss and keeping your vision.