People often overlook the fact that smoking can lead to many potential eye defects and diseases. Smoking is the single most common form of preventable diseases and, because of this, quitting is one of the best ways to prevent eye problems and increase the longevity of your eye health.
Cataracts are formed when our natural eye lens becomes cloudy and is by far the leading cause of blindness in the United States. In the U.S. alone, it is projected that more than 50 percent of Americans will have some degree of cataracts by the age of 80. Scientists have found that those who smoke cigarettes and other tobacco products have double the chances of getting cataracts as opposed to non-smokers.1 Additionally, it is believed that cataracts formed through smoking cigarettes is caused by oxidation in the eye over time. The oxidation begins to progressively alter the cells within our eyes and eventually forms cataracts. Other causes include the accumulation of several different kinds of metals, like cadmium, in the eye over time. These metals contribute to the formation of cataracts because they’re heavily toxic to sensitive tissues like the ones within our eyes.
Researchers also believe that smoking could restrict blood flow to the retina, which in turn may cause AMD.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that affects the center of the retina. 2 This part of the eye is key for everyday tasks that require attention to detail (such as reading and driving). Smoking has a heavy impact on AMD, increasing the likelihood of getting the disease from two to four times when compared to non-smokers. Over time, macular degeneration will cause blind spots to form in the eye affecting a person’s line of sight, peripherals and overall awareness. In the same way that smoking affects the lens of the eye for cataracts through oxidation, smoking also affects the cells in the macula. Cells will be altered and harmed through oxidation over time, which will deteriorate the macula. This deterioration aids in the formation of blinds spots, blurriness and distorted vision. Researchers also believe that smoking could restrict blood flow to the retina, which in turn may cause AMD.
Dry eye syndrome is another fast-acting disease and is caused by an inability of the eyes to produce a sufficient amount of tears. It’s more common than other smoke-related eye diseases as it can be caused by secondhand smoke. Symptoms range from redness and sharp stinging eye pain, to general discomfort. Smoking heavily has been shown to progressively break down the lipids that form tears within our eyes. Unfortunately, this lipid is very difficult for the eye to heal on its own and can either take some time, or never heal at all depending on how severely damaged it is. Individuals who are constantly around frequent smokers, either at home or in the workspace, can often develop the symptoms of dry eye syndrome rather quickly.
Luckily, a lot of these issues can be fixed by simply quitting.
Smoking has also been found to affect diabetic retinopathy, cause potential lazy eye over time and even severe optic nerve damage. Luckily, a lot of these issues can be fixed by simply quitting. Scientist have found that quitting smoking entirely can have a huge effect on the development of these diseases. Diseases like cataracts will heal very slowly but certain diseases like AMD may start to improve in as little as a year. If you are smoking, you might want to look into quitting as soon as possible, especially within the early stages of cigarette addiction. One thing is clear across the board: the best way to deter or prevent all of these diseases is to never begin smoking in the first place.