While it is common knowledge that smoking can be damaging to our general health, you may be unaware that smokers are also at a greater risk of developing eye complications.
To generate the energy needed for the eye to function properly, a continuous flow of oxygen and nutrients must be present. Smoking reduces the blood supply that is critical to the eyes by narrowing the blood vessels and thickening the blood. Tobacco smoke is also made up of many toxic chemicals that are potentially damaging to the eyes.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease affecting the macula, the central part of the retina at the back of the eye. The macula is responsible for your detailed vision like reading, driving, recognising faces and using the computer, so AMD reduces your ability to perform these tasks. Smokers are 4 times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers. While there is no cure for AMD, reducing or ceasing tobacco consumption is the most important preventable risk factor to date.
Cataracts are a clouding of the lens inside the eye, causing blurred vision, sensitivity to glare, loss of contrast and difficulty seeing colours. While cataracts usually develop with age, smokers develop cataracts earlier and more severely.
Cigarette smoke is highly irritating to the outer layers of the eye. The chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause watery eyes, red eyes, stinging, prickling or burning sensations. Smokers are 82% more likely to develop dry eye than non-smokers. Non-smokers may also experience these eye irritations by passive exposure to second-hand smoke.
Strabismus is the turning of an eye or eyes. It is a problem in children that requires intervention through spectacles, patching, eye exercises, surgery, or a combination of these treatments. Smoking during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of strabismus in children.
Not all smokers will experience eye problems, and not all non-smokers will miss out on eye problems, but being a non-smoker significantly reduces your risk of developing some eye complications. If anyone you know needs help to quit smoking call the Quitline on
13 78 48 or visit http://www.quitnow.gov.au/internet/quitnow/publishing.nsf/Content/warnings-b-eye.
Nicky Carr is our full time optometrist and is also our practice owner.