You probably already know about smoking’s effect on the heart and lungs. You know that smoking puts you at higher risk for heart disease and lung cancer. But did you know that smoking can also cause vision loss?
Many studies show smoking increases your risk of developing vision problems. Smoking is a risk factor in age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, and dry eye syndrome. Here’s how smoking puts you at risk for the following vision problems:
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
AMD is vision loss that occurs as you age, usually caused by fatty acid buildup in the retina. It starts out as difficulty reading or seeing fine details. As the disease progresses, you lose more and more vision. Smokers are 3 to 4 times more likely to develop AMD than nonsmokers. Even just living with a smoker doubles your risk for AMD.
The lenses of the eyes are naturally clear. When the lens becomes clouded over, it’s called a cataract. Most cataracts are related to aging, and they also get worse with age. While cataracts are very common—more than half of all Americans over 80 have a cataract or have had surgery to remove one—smokers triple their risk of developing them.
Glaucoma is a progressive disease that causes damage to the eye’s optic nerve. It’s usually linked to pressure inside the eye that builds up against the optic nerve. The optic nerve transmits what your eyes see to your brain for interpretation, so extended damage will always lead to permanent blindness. While smoking itself doesn’t cause glaucoma, it is strongly linked to high blood pressure, cataracts, and diabetes. All three of these conditions are risk factors for glaucoma, and stopping smoking is an important factor in reducing your chances of developing them.
A common complication of diabetes, retinopathy happens when retinal blood vessels break down or become blocked. This effects your vision, and could even cause blindness. Smoking both increases your chances of getting diabetes, and makes diabetes more difficult to manage. Besides for retinopathy, smoking can also exacerbate other diabetes complications. Examples include heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and nerve damage.
Dry Eye Syndrome
Dry eye syndrome is when damaged blood vessels in the eyes cause irritation, itchiness, and burning sensations. Smokers are more than twice as likely to get dry eye syndrome than nonsmokers.
How you can prevent vision loss
Quitting smoking is important if you don’t want to quit seeing. If you haven’t yet developed eye diseases, quit smoking to help your eyes heal from the damage. Here are some other tips for healthy eyes:
- Eat green leafy vegetables, and foods high in vitamins C, E, and beta carotene
- Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels
- Exercise regularly
- See your eye doctor at least annually