The main health risk that tends to come to mind with a smoking habit is lung cancer, perhaps followed by oral health problems, but it doesn’t merely harm the parts of the body that come into direct contact with the smoke. Studies show that there is a significant increase in the risk of eye diseases from cataracts to diabetic retinopathy to glaucoma to age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
The risk of cataracts (the world’s leading cause of blindness) doubles for smokers. Early symptoms of cataracts include blurred or double vision, faded colors, poor night vision, and light sensitivity. The good news is that cataract surgery is both safe and incredibly common, which means that any vision loss from cataracts doesn’t have to last.
Any eye problem with “diabetic” in the name obviously has a connection to diabetes, and they’re also connected to smoking because smoking increases the likelihood of developing diabetes by as much as 40%. This makes any health complications associated with diabetes more likely by extension.
Diabetic retinopathy happens when weakened blood vessels at the back of the eye begin leaking blood into the field of vision, starving the retina of the oxygen it needs. The problem tends to worsen over time, particularly if the diabetes isn’t controlled well.
The part of the retina that gives us our sharpest, most detailed vision is the macula. AMD is a condition in which the macula gradually deteriorates, causing irreversible blindness. Smoking triples the risk of developing AMD and also makes it more likely to happen at an earlier age.
While the smokers themselves will feel the worst effects of smoking, it can also hurt those closest to them through secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke increases the risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke. In children, it can cause asthma attacks, bronchitis, ear infections, pneumonia, and even increase the risk of SIDS.
Vaping has been presented as a healthy alternative to smoking, but that’s simply not true. Many chemicals in e-cigarette fluid are linked with higher risks of the above sight-threatening conditions too. The bottom line is that there is no healthy way to consume tobacco.
We can’t always control our eye disease risk factors, such as age or family history, but we can control whether or not we smoke. No matter how long someone has had a smoking habit, they can reduce their risk of eye disease and a wide range of other health problems by quitting. Other things we can do for our eye health include staying active, eating healthy, and keeping up with regular eye exams!