The disease we usually think of when we hear “health risks of smoking” is lung cancer, but the damage smoking can cause isn’t limited to the lungs. A smoking habit can actually damage eyesight faster than disease, and there are a few different ways it happens.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease that causes irreversible blindness. It is the deterioration of the macula, the central part of the retina where we see the sharpest detail. Smokers have triple the risk of developing AMD compared to nonsmokers. They’re also more likely to develop it up to ten years earlier than average for nonsmokers.
Cataracts are the world’s leading cause of blindness, and smoking doubles the risk of developing them—for heavy smokers, it triples it! Early on, cataract symptoms include blurred vision, double vision, light sensitivity, faded colors, and reduced night vision. In most cases, it is possible to surgically remove them and reverse the vision loss.
Retinopathy most commonly affects people with diabetes, in the form of diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes causes damage to the blood vessels in the retina, which then bleed into the eye. If the diabetes isn’t very carefully managed, this can starve the light-sensitive cells in the retina of oxygen and lead to blindness. Smoking increases the risk of developing diabetes by 30-40 percent and increases the progression of diabetic retinopathy.
Secondhand smoke combines the smoke from the end of the cigarette with the smoke exhaled by the smoker. Not only does smoking affect the vision of the smoker, it can put the vision of everyone around them at increased risk too, in addition to many other negative health effects. Infants and young children are most likely to suffer from this smoke with asthma attacks, infections, and even SIDS.
The good news is that smoking is the most preventable cause of vision loss, because we can either quit smoking or never start. Even someone with a long history of smoking can significantly reduce their risk of health complications by quitting. Quitting smoking reduces the risk of macular degeneration by six percent after just one year, and it also reduces the risk of developing cataracts!
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If you want help to quit smoking, there are resources all around you. Support from friends, family, and even counselors can be the best help in quitting, and you can also check out the CDC’s website for tips and information. As your eye care specialists, we care deeply about your health, and we encourage you to quit smoking and schedule an eye exam so that we can assess the health of your eyes.