Smoking is harmful to every system in the body, and it’s also harmful to our vision. A smoking habit can do more damage to our eyesight than disease can, in a few different ways.
Studies have shown that smoking increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and even Dry Eye Syndrome. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these.
AMD is the deterioration of the macula (the central part of the retina where we see the sharpest detail), causing irreversible blindness. Compared to nonsmokers, smokers have triple the risk of developing AMD, and they’re more likely to begin developing it up to ten years earlier than nonsmokers do on average.
Smoking doubles the risk of cataracts, the world’s leading cause of blindness. For heavy smokers, it triples the risk! Cataract symptoms begin with blurred or double vision, light sensitivity, faded colors, and reduced night vision. Fortunately, cataract surgeries are extremely common and safe, so this type of vision loss usually isn’t irreversible.
Retinopathy is an eye disease closely associated with diabetes, but smoking increases a person’s chances of developing diabetes by up to 40 percent, thereby increasing the risk of retinopathy as well. Poorly controlled blood sugar damages the blood vessels in the retina, causing them to leak blood into the eye. If the damage is severe enough, it can eventually starve the retina of oxygen and lead to blindness.
Secondhand smoke combines the smoke from the end of the cigarette with what the smoker exhales. In addition to harming the vision of the smoker, it can put the eyesight of others at risk too, along with many other health effects. The most vulnerable are young children and infants.
Vaping is often touted as the “healthy” alternative to smoking, but many of the chemicals in e-cigarette liquid have been linked to increased risks of these same vision-threatening diseases we’ve discussed. If vaping is healthier than regular cigarettes, it isn’t by much.
Smoking is the most preventable cause of vision loss, because we can control whether or not we do it. It’s never too late to quit, either. Quitting reduces the risk of macular degeneration by six percent after just one year, and it also reduces the risk of developing cataracts! We, as your eye care specialists, care deeply about your health. If you need resources to help quit smoking, we would be happy to offer our suggestions.