Vision Problems: Another Reason to Stop the Smoking Habit

Outside of the financial burden this habit has, smoker or not, you know all about the health risks smoking poses. Adverse and often fatal health effects of cigarette smoking such as heart disease and cancer are all too familiar, the reasons to quit are plenty. Add vision problems to that list. It’s true: smoking makes it more likely for a person to develop things, like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. It harms nearly every organ in your body — including your eyes.

A study in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. It showed that regular smokers have more than double the risk of non-smokers to develop macular degeneration – a condition more than 10 million Americans now have. Studies also show smokers can have a three-fold increase in the risk of developing AMD compared with people who have never smoked. And female smokers over age 80 are 5.5 times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers of the same age.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the center of the retina, which is responsible for sharp, central vision needed for everyday tasks such as reading and driving. Macular degeneration causes “blind spots” and often severely impairs central vision. AMD is the leading cause of permanent vision loss among Americans age 65 and older.

But it’s not all bad news: because smoking is the biggest controllable risk factor associated with AMD, quitting smoking at any age, even later in life, can significantly reduce your risk of developing AMD


Here are more reasons you should kick the habit:

Smoking and Cataracts

Cataracts (clouding of the eye’s natural lens) are a leading cause of blindness in the world. More than 50 percent of Americans will have a cataract or have had cataract surgery by age 80. Smokers significantly increase their risk of developing a cataract compared with non-smokers. In fact, a Harvard Medical School study found smokers are three times as likely to develop the variety of cataract that is the most vision threatening and twice as likely to get a less disabling form of a cataract, the risk continues to increase the more you smoke.


A direct link between smoking and glaucoma hasn’t been proven – yet. But, the connection is clear between smoking, high blood pressure, cataracts and diabetes – all are known glaucoma risk factors. 


Smoking and Uveitis

Uveitis (inflammation of the eye’s middle layer, or uvea) is a serious eye disease that can result in complete vision loss.

It harms vital structures of the eye, including the iris and retina, and can lead to complications such as cataract, glaucoma and retinal detachment.

Evidence shows smokers are more likely than non-smokers to have uveitis, and smoking appears linked to the development of uveitis. One study found smoking was associated with a 2.2 times greater than normal risk of having the condition.


Smoking and Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy damages the blood vessels of the retina and can result in vision loss.

More than 5 million Americans age 40 and older have diabetic retinopathy due to type 1 or type 2 diabetes. And that number will grow to about 16 million by 2050, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There also is a causal relationship between smoking and both the development and progression of diabetic retinopathy, in addition to numerous other diabetes complications.

A Diabetes Care study showed smoking doubles diabetes risk. And, many people with the condition also develop retinopathy, which can damage vision.

Smokers are up to four times more likely to go blind in old age. 


Smoking and Dry Eyes

Dry eye syndrome describes insufficient tears on the eye’s surface, which are needed to keep the eye lubricated and healthy. Sufferers of dry eye can experience eye redness, itchiness, a “foreign body” sensation and even watery eyes.

Tobacco smoke is a known eye irritant and worsens dry eye — even among second-hand smokers — particularly for contact lens wearers. People who smoke are nearly twice as likely to have dry eyes. This according to a recent University of Wisconsin study.

Graves’ disease

Tobacco use increases your chance of developing eye complications related to thyroid disease. Graves’ disease is caused by a generalized over activity of the entire thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism). It is named for Robert Graves, an Irish physician, who described this form of hyperthyroidism about 150 years ago.

Graves’ disease is the only kind of hyperthyroidism that can be associated with inflammation of the eyes, swelling of the tissues around the eyes and bulging of the eyes (called Graves’ ophthalmopathy).


Smoking and Infant Eye Disease

Women who smoke during pregnancy transmit dangerous toxins to the placenta, potentially harming the unborn child. Smoking while pregnant increases the chance of many fetal and infant eye disorders, among other serious health problems.

Women who smoke during pregnancy increase the risk of having a baby with lazy eye and facial defects involving the eyes.

These include strabismus (crossed eyes) and underdevelopment of the optic nerve, which is a leading cause of blindness in children.

Also, women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to give birth prematurely; all babies born prematurely are at greater risk of eye problems than full-term babies.

Vision problems of premature babies include retinopathy of prematurity, a potentially blinding disease.


If you are a smoker

Make annual comprehensive eye examinations a priority. Your eye doctor can detect and treat eye conditions early to help prevent your eye health from going up in smoke.


Are You Ready To Quit?

It’s never too late to quit smoking and enjoy the benefits of a healthier lifestyle and, ultimately, a healthier body. Quitting smoking at any age can reduce your risk of developing many sight-threatening eye conditions. The good news is that after people quit smoking, their risks for these eye diseases becomes almost as low as for people who never smoked.

Doctors all join the “you should quit” chorus with patients who smoke, but it’s an uphill battle. But there’s plenty of help out there – more and more all the time.

The best strategy is to ask your family physician for help in breaking the addiction and can recommend other methods to help you on your journey to a smoke-free life or visit The American Cancer Society, also has resources to help people who want to quit: Quitting cigarettes is difficult, but your eyesight is certainly worth the effort.

For more information about how smoking or living with a smoker is affecting your eye health, visit your eye care professional.



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