Five Ways Smoking Impacts Eye Health

Posted By Key-Whitman Eye Center || 10-Oct-2013

smokingsmallSmoking 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

  1. 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.
  2. Diabetic retinopathy. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 full-term.

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.

Categories: Eye Health
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