According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. By now, all of us know about the ways that smoking harms our hearts, lungs, skin, and teeth, but in truth, smoking’s effects can be seen throughout our bodies. While we are becoming more and more educated about the dangers of smoking to our general health, too often, we neglect to think about the negative ways smoking impacts our eyes.
Cigarette smoke is a poisonous mix of more than 4,000 chemicals. This toxic mix noticeably aggravates our eyes physically on the outside; what we don’t notice immediately is that smoke harms our eye health and erodes our vision, as well.
Smoking and Eye Health
Smoking is tied to several eye health issues, including the leading causes of blindness.
Macular degeneration: Compared to those who do not smoke cigarettes, smokers have a four times greater risk of age-related macular degeneration, a common disease that describes the worsening of our eyes’ primary sight used for everyday life.
Cataracts: The habit also increases smokers’ risk of developing cataracts up to three times. Cataracts are a clouding that occurs in the eye’s lens that muddies vision severely.
Glaucoma: Studies have shown a strong link between smoking and cataracts, diabetes, and high blood pressure, which are all risk factors for glaucoma, a dying-off of nerve cells that leads to vision loss.
Diabetic Retinopathy: Smoking increases the chance of developing diabetes (studies have found it may double the risk) and makes managing the disease more difficult. Diabetic retinopathy, common in diabetes patients, can lead to severe eye damage.
Uveitis: This eye disease, an inflammation of the eye’s middle layer called the uvea, hurts the eye’s structures, including the retina and iris, and leads to complications like glaucoma, cataracts, and retinal detachment. Smokers have more than twice the normal risk of developing uveitis.
Cigarettes and tobacco use also puts smokers at a greater risk of developing other eye conditions including dry eye and certain cancers of the eye. Eye health is also indirectly hurt by other health hazards of smoking: risks of stroke and increased high blood pressure have both been linked to smoking, and these can severely damage blood vessels inside smokers’ eyes, leading to blindness.
Another Type of Secondhand Smoke: Smoking while Pregnant
Like others who may be subject to secondhand smoke, fetuses may also suffer due to smoking done by those who love them. Pregnant women who smoke are more likely to give birth prematurely, which puts babies at a higher risk for retinopathy of prematurity, a disease that sometimes leads to blindness. Pregnant smokers also transmit the dangerous toxins in cigarettes to the placenta, which increases the risk of several fetal and infant eye disorders, including strabismus (crossed eyes) and an underdeveloped optic nerve, a leading cause of blindness in children.
Time to Quit!
The more frequently you smoke and the longer it remains a habit, the more likely you are to develop the above vision problems, as well as other health issues. Because smoking is the risk factor for these conditions that is the most controllable, quitting today will reduce the risk immediately! If you’d like to quit, free help is available through the state of Minnesota. Visit this website to learn more and protect your health (and the health of those around you!) today.