Many studies have shown that cigarette smoking damages our health, but sight-threatening vision and eye problems caused by smoking are less well-known. Dr Federico Badalà, ophtalmologist in charge of the Ocular Microsurgery Center of Milan and Catania, has recently carried out a study which emphasizes the following risks for our eye health:
Smoking and Cataracts
Cataracts (clouding of the eye’s natural lens) are a leading cause of blindness in the world. “Smokers – explains Dr Badalà – significantly increase their risk of developing a cataract compared withnon-smokers. In fact, studies show that people who smoke double their chance of forming cataracts, and the risk continues to increase the more you smoke”.
Smoking and Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration affects the center of the retina, which is responsible for sharp, central vision needed for everyday tasks such as reading and driving.
Macular degeneration causes “blind spots” and often severely impairs central vision. Consequently. AMD is the leading cause of permanent vision loss among people age 65 and older.
“But – continues Dr Badalà – smoking is the biggest controllable risk factor associated with AMD, so quitting smoking at any age, even later in life, can reduce your risk of developing AMD”.
Smoking and Uveitis
Uveitis (inflammation of the eye’s middle layer, or uvea) is a serious eye disease that can result in complete vision loss.
It harms vital structures of the eye, including the iris and retina, and can lead to complications such as cataract, glaucoma and retinal detachment.
“Evidence shows smokers are more likely than non-smokers to have uveitis, and smoking appears linked to the development of uveitis” – affirms Dr Badalà. One study found that smoking was associated with the doubling ofthe risk of having the condition.
Smoking and Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy damages the blood vessels of the retina and can result in vision loss.
“There also is a causal relationship between smoking and both the development and progression of diabetic retinopathy, in addition to numerous other diabetes complications. Moreover, smoking may as much as double the risk of developing diabetes”.
Smoking and Dry Eyes
Dry eye syndrome describes insufficient tears on the eye’s surface, which are needed to keep the eye lubricated and healthy. Sufferers of dry eye can experience eye redness, itchiness, a “foreign body” sensation and even watery eyes.
“Tobacco smoke is a known eye irritant and worsens dry eye — even among second-hand smokers — particularly for contact lens wearers. People who smoke are nearly twice as likely to have dry eyes” – continues Dr Badalà.
Smoking and Infant Eye Disease
“Women who smoke during pregnancy transmit dangerous toxins to the placenta, potentially harming the unborn child. Smoking while pregnant increases the chance of many fetal and infant eye disorders, among other serious health problems.”
These include strabismus (crossed eyes), the retinopathy of prematurity and the underdevelopment of the optic nerve, which is a leading cause of blindness in children.
Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to give birth prematurely; all babies born prematurely are at greater risk of eye problems than full-term babies.
Are You Ready To Quit?
“It’s never too late to quit smoking and enjoy the benefits of a healthier lifestyle and, ultimately, a healthier body” – concludes Dr Badalà. “Quitting smoking at any age can reduce your risk of developing many sight-threatening eye conditions.”
If you smoke and you are suffering from these diseases (cataract, maculopathy, uveitis, diabetic retinopathy or dry eye), we advise you to have regular eye examinations and to contact the anti smoking centers of your city; a great help to kick the habit.