Cigarette smoke is extremely toxic, containing as many as 4 000 active compounds including tar, formaldehyde and heavy metals. Most of us are aware of the adverse effects of cigarette smoking on the body: heart disease, chronic lung disease and cancer but smoking really harms every organ of the body and the eyes are not exempt from it. Cigarette smoking causes direct damage to the tissues of the eye.
The macula is an area of the retina that is responsible for central vision. It is responsible for fine detail and clarity for reading and driving. Research shows that smokers are three times as likely to develop Macular Degeneration than people who have never smoked. The risks are even worse for older women. Macular Degeneration causes distorted central vision eventually leading to blind spots making reading and driving an impossible task. The good news is that quitting smoking at any time can significantly reduce the risks for developing Macular Degeneration.
A cataract is formed by the clouding of the lens inside the eye. Most of the time, cataracts are part of the natural aging process and more than half of all adults will require a cataract operation by the time they are 80 years old. However, cigarette smokers are twice as likely to develop cataracts than non-smokers and for heavy smokers, the risk is triple!
Uveitis is a serious inflammation of the eye’s middle layers. The inflammation and swelling results in blurred vision, redness and pain. The inflammation can destroy eye tissues and lead to vision loss. One study found that smoking increases the risk of uveitis two-fold compared to non-smokers.
DRY EYE SYNDROME
Tobacco smoke is a known eye irritant and smokers are frequent sufferers of dry eye syndrome. Complaints of red, scratchy and itchy eyes are frequent and even more problematic for contact lens wearers.
Research shows that smoking may as much as double the risk of developing diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is a condition seen in diabetics that damages the retinal blood vessels, causes hypoxia (or oxygen starvation) and can result in vision loss. Diabetics who smoke show faster progression of diabetic retinopathy in addition to other diabetes complications.
SMOKING AND INFANT & CHILDHOOD EYE DISEASE
Women who smoke during pregnancy increase the chance of infant eye disorders and serious health problems. This may include strabismus (squint) and under-developed optic nerve, which leads to blindness. Smoking during pregnancy also increases the risks of premature birth. Babies born prematurely are at an increased risk of eye problems compared to full-term babies. Children who are regularly exposed to second hand smoke are also more likely to suffer with dry eye symptoms and allergic conjunctivitis.
The good news is that after quitting smoking, the risk of some eye diseases becomes as low as for people who never smoked. Quitting, if you are a smoker, is the best investment you can make for your long-term eye health.