Smoking and eye disease

How smoking affects sight

Ongoing exposure to tobacco smoke generates biological changes in the eye that can lead to vision loss. Heavy exposure to secondhand smoke, such as living with a smoker for at least five years, can also cause these changes. High blood pressure, directly caused by smoking, is a risk factor for macular degeneration. Smoking causes blood vessels to narrow throughout the body, including the blood vessels to the eye. Smoking also reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood so less oxygen reaches the macula. Research suggests that cigarette smoke related tar triggers the formation of deposits in the retina (drusen) which mark the start of macular degeneration. In short, repeated exposure to tobacco smoke accelerates the body’s ageing process, including that of the eyes. The best way to avoid some of the related sight loss is by quitting smoking.

Benefits of stopping smoking

Stopping smoking can halt or reverse damage to the eyes, depending on the severity and type of disease. In the case of AMD, smokers are at least twice as likely to develop it and former smokers have only a slightly increased risk compared with never smokers. A British study of people aged 75 or older found that those who had quit smoking for 20 years or more had the same risk of developing AMD as non-smokers.

Passive smoking and eye disease

Non-smokers often complain of eye irritation when exposed to tobacco smoke, which was found to be experienced by 82% of individuals in one study. There is currently limited evidence about the risks of passive smoking and eye disease. One major study found that passive smoking was associated with increased risk of late AMD although the association was not statistically significant, while a more recent study found that passive smoking almost doubled a person’s risk of developing AMD. Passive smoking is a risk for developing thyroid eye disease (TED). Children born to women who smoke during pregnancy are prone to developing strabismus (squinting).

If you are a smoker and would like to check the health of your eyes call us now for an appointment in either our Cardigan, Narberth or Pembroke Dock branch.