Smoking is a killer. We've known for decades that smoking can contribute to cancer, oral disease, and heart disease among many others, but are you aware that it can also affect your vision? There are a handful of ways that smoking can negatively impact your eyes, leading to damage to these sensitive organs, and even vision loss.
Dry Eye is a common but uncomfortable condition that affects millions of Americans. While chronically dry eyes can lead to discomfort and even corneal damage down the road, dry eye also impacts contact lens wear and vision clarity day-to-day. Cigarette smoke is known to exacerbate Dry Eye Syndrome by affecting the important tear film on the eyes, causing tearing, itching, and increased sensitivity.
The lens of your eye can be imagined like a windshield. A "clouding" of the lens, like a fogged up windshield, is what happens when an individual develops a cataract. While cataracts are very common, and affect over half the U.S. population over 80 years old, smoking can play a significant role in speeding up their development. According to the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, smoking can significantly increase the risk for age-related cataracts specifically, accelerating their growth and severity.
There are dozens of different varieties of glaucoma, but simply put, the disease is the result of damage to the optic nerve. It's also a leading cause of blindness in the U.S. One of the most common forms of glaucoma is known as "open-angle glaucoma," and often results from chronically elevated pressure within the eye. Research has not only demonstrated that smokers have higher intraocular pressures than non-smokers on average, but smoking can also decrease blood flow to the optic nerve, resulting in glaucomatous damage and vision loss.
There are many diseases which smoking may exacerbate and intensify. One such condition is an overactive thyroid, which can have many negative effects on an individual's health. Thyroid disease is related to conditions of the immune system including Graves' Disease. Smoking is strongly linked to Graves' Disease, which can affect the musculature surrounding the eyes, impact vision, and even lead to blindness.
It's well known that smoking contributes to blood vessel problems. The back of the eye, called the retina, relies on good blood flow to remain healthy. Damaged vessels in the eye can lead to a number of retinal issues, a very common condition being Diabetic Retinopathy. Nearly 50 percent of diabetic Americans have Diabetic Retinopathy, which can lead to vision loss and blindness if left untreated. For smokers with diabetes, the progression of retinopathy can increase threefold.
Not only can smoking damage your vision, but it can damage the vision of others in your life. Second-hand smoke can exacerbate common problems such as dry eye syndrome, but smoking can also lead to more serious consequences for others. Birth defects such as strabismus, otherwise known as a "lazy eye," premature birth, and defects in an infant's facial development are all potential consequences of smoking that could affect an unborn child.
No matter what part of the body you look at, smoking is a major contributor to disease and damage. And for the eyes, this damage can lead to debilitating blindness. Particularly for those at risk for eye disease, quitting or refraining from smoking is a critical step to supporting and maintaining good vision and overall good health for a lifetime.