Smoking and Eye Health

While many people know the risks of smoking to their overall health, often there is less awareness of the impact of smoking on vision and the eyes. Avoiding smoking or taking steps to quit, lowers your risk of vision impairment and vision loss.

The Canadian Association of Optometrists indicate that smokers are at higher risk for the following conditions:

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

The macula is the central most part of the retina, the inner layer at the back of the eye responsible for detailed central vision. It is used for reading, driving and recognizing people’s faces. Macular degeneration is a condition that causes the center of your vision to blur while the side or peripheral vision remains unaffected. It is generally related to the aging process, and is also commonly referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It is the leading cause of blindness in North America in adults over the age of 55. High-risk groups include smokers and people who have had extensive UV exposure. AMD is also associated with conditions such as high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, and those with a family history of AMD.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes and its complications can affect many parts of the eye. The most serious eye problem associated with diabetes is diabetic retinopathy which occurs when there is a weakening or swelling of the tiny blood vessels in the retina of your eye, resulting in blood leakage, the growth of new blood vessels and other changes. If diabetic retinopathy is left untreated, blindness can result. Several factors that increase the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy include smoking, high blood pressure, drinking alcohol and pregnancy.

Cataracts

Cataracts are the result of aging changes that occur within your eyes that cause the lenses to become cloudy. This may be due to advancing age or it may be the result of heredity, an injury or a disease. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation present in sunlight, cigarette smoke or the use of certain medications is also risk factors for the development of cataracts. Cataracts usually develop in both eyes, but often at different rates.

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

The most common cause of temporary vision loss is known as a transient ischemic attack. It is more commonly known as a TIA, or a “mini-stroke,” and tends to occur most often in seniors. A TIA may only last a matter of minutes but it should not be ignored since roughly fifteen per cent of patients who survive their first TIA or mini-stroke will suffer another one within one year. Risk factors for TIA: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, IV drug use, cocaine use, excessive alcohol, use of oral contraceptives, and lack of exercise causing obesity.

In 2011 the Canadian Journal Optometry (CJO) published the article:

Smoking and Blindness: What Optometrists Want Their Patients to See.

Abstract: Most smokers are not aware that their tobacco use is a preventable cause of blindness. Despite the important role optometrists can have impacting patient health choices; their voice has been largely silent in the development of tobacco cessation practice guidelines and health promotion strategies. In this study, we use the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (ITC) Four Country Survey to describe the level of Canadian smokers’ knowledge of the association of smoking with blindness and we use focus groups to elicit ideas from Canadian optometrists and senior optometry students about blindness-related graphic warning labels.

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