The effects of smoking on overall health are widely known, but did you know that smoking harms your
eyes as well? Today I’m talking about the ways that cigarettes and tobacco can harm your eyes and vision. Hopefully, if you are a smoker, you will consider your eyes and smoking, and maybe even try to kick this habit once and for all.
Cataracts are the clouding of the natural lens inside the eye which causes blurry vision and glare.
Smoking causes cataracts to form faster so you may need surgery earlier than others who do not smoke.
The chemicals found in cigarettes cause breakdown of the lens which leads to cataract formation.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease that affects the macula which is responsible for
the center part of your vision and allows you to see images sharply. It can also lead to blind spots mostly
in the center of your vision. Smokers have a 4x risk of developing AMD compared to non-smokers.
Smokers are shown to have lower levels of the macular pigments lutein and zeaxanthin which are
protective for the macula. There are other factors that contribute to developing AMD such as genetics,
sun exposure, and diet, but smoking is one of the biggest causes that you have control over. The good
news is that quitting at any age can significantly reduce your risk for developing this, even when it comes to your eyes and smoking.
Uveitis is inflammation of the middle layer of the eye, the uvea, and can lead to permanent vision loss. It
causes damage to the iris (the colored part of the eye) and the retina (the tissue that lines the back of
the eye). Uveitis can also lead to other eye issues like cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal detachments. One
study shows that smokers have a 2.2x greater risk of developing uveitis as compared to non-smokers.
Smoking increases your risk of developing diabetes by about 40%, therefore increasing the risk of
diabetic retinopathy as well. Diabetic retinopathy is when the blood vessels in the retina become
damaged and begin to leak blood into the eye. It can cause permanent vision loss if left untreated.
Dry eye is a condition where either they eye is not producing enough tears, or the tears are evaporating
off the eye too quickly. This leads to eye irritation, watery eyes, and blurry vision. Smoke is irritating to
the eyes and can affect even secondhand smokers. People who smoke are nearly twice as likely to
experience symptoms of dry eye.
Infant Eye Problems
Women who smoke while pregnant can increase the chance of fetal and infant eye disorders.
Strabismus is one which is where the eyes are not properly aligned and can lead to significant vision
problems. Maternal smoking can also lead to underdevelopment of the optic nerve called optic nerve
hypoplasia. The optic nerve is responsible for relaying visual stimuli to the brain for processing. The
underdevelopment of the optic nerve can therefore lead to significant visual impairment. Smoking can
also lead to premature birth which puts the baby at higher risk for developing retinopathy of
prematurity which is a potentially blinding disease.
It is never too late to quit smoking! No matter what age, it will greatly reduce the risk of eye problems.
Talk to your doctor about tools and methods to help you and enjoy a healthier lifestyle. When it comes to your eyes and smoking, you can’t be too careful.