Smoking and Your Eyes
It is a countdown to the end of the year, and it is almost time to wave goodbye to 2023. Many people are considering their goals for 2024; for some, quitting smoking is their top goal. The most common health effect that comes to mind when we think of smoking is lung cancer, but it doesn’t stop there; your eye health is also in jeopardy.
Smoking is harmful to every system in the body and is detrimental to our vision. A smoking habit can do more damage to our eyesight than the disease can in a few different ways. Smoking over a long period can significantly affect your eye health and vision.
Consider these statistics that encourage you to take steps forward to quit:
- 34.1 million adults (over the age of 18) in the United States currently smoke cigarettes.
- Smoking cigarettes remains the leading cause of preventable disease and disability in the United States.
- There is good news about the number of smokers in the U.S., which has decreased from 20.9% in 2005 to 14.0% in 2019.
A new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that, while progress is being made, smoking and tobacco use remain a concern for the health of millions of Americans.
Smoking makes for itchy, watery eyes, which can be a nuisance. However, more importantly, smoking escalates the risk for vision-threatening eye diseases are highlighted below:
Smoking Is A Risk Factor for Every Age-Related Eye Disease
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.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
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 the disease 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 prevalent 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, increasing the risk of retinopathy. 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.
Smokers Aren’t Always the Only Ones Affected
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 Not a Safe Alternative
Vaping is proclaimed as the “healthy” alternative to smoking. Still, many of the chemicals in an e-cigarette liquid have been linked to increased risks of these same vision-threatening diseases we’ve discussed. A study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology highlighted a link between vaping and the risk of developing visual impairment. The study found former e-cigarette users had a 14% higher risk of visual impairment than those who had never vaped, and those who were current e-cigarette users had a 34% higher risk of being visually impaired when compared to those who never tried e-cigarettes.
Break the Habit to Save Your Vision
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. Quitting reduces the risk of macular degeneration by six percent after just one year, reducing the risk of developing cataracts! As your eye care specialists, we care deeply about your health. If you need resources to help you quit smoking, the American Cancer Society has helpful tips.