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How Does Smoking Tobacco Impact Your Eyes?

Smoking and Eye Health

We are constantly informed by medical professionals and public health campaigns of how dangerous smoking can be for our health. On top of the widely-known related conditions such as cancer and heart disease, smoking also has an impact on our eye health. Since our hub focuses on managing eye health, we’ve broken down the science behind how smoking can impact your eyes, as well as offering advice to help you quit smoking once and for all.


How does smoking affect eye health?

The impact of smoking on eye health is still widely unknown. In 2004, the UK Government published figures which found that 18,000 people suffered from a loss of vision as a result of smoking-induced macular degeneration.i, ii

When you take a puff of a cigarette smoke, chemicals are absorbed by the lungs and transferred into the bloodstream. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke binds to the haemoglobin in red blood cells, preventing the affected cells from carrying a full supply of oxygen to the rest of the body.iii On top of this, cigarette nicotine suppresses the body’s immune responses, making it harder to defend against illness and repair tissues.iv These factors make the eyes more susceptible to a number of conditions, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, glaucoma and dry eye syndrome.v


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

Age-related macular degeneration involves the erosion of the macula – the central part of the retina that enables you to see intricate details such as faces, words on a page and subtleties in colours. When the macula begins to decline, you can experience distortions, blurriness, blind spots in your central vision, and in some cases loss of vision.vi

Smoking increases the risk of vision loss from AMD by interfering with the blood flow to the retina.vii On top of this, nicotine also increases the effects of oxidative stress in the macula.viii According to a 2005 study, smokers are 3 times more likely to experience AMD and may develop this condition 10 years earlier than their non-smoking counterparts.ix, x Although there’s no simple cure for AMD, there are ways to delay the advancement of the disease. Your doctor could prescribe anti-angiogenic medication to prevent the triggering of macular deterioration.xi Laser therapy is another option, or you could try more natural methods of supplementation outlined in our article.


Cataracts

Often a product of old age, cataracts is the most common cause of vision loss.xii Cataracts are most easily identified by a clouded lens, causing faded colours, increased sensitivity to glare, blurriness and overall poor vision.xiii

An increasing amount of research has highlighted the relationship between smoking and cataracts.xiv According to one study, smokers are three times more likely to develop nuclear cataracts – the most common form of the condition.xv It’s believed that smoking alters cells in the lens of the eye through oxidation, making them more prone to developing cataracts.xvi Data also suggests cigarette smoke can lead to a build-up of metal residue, in particular cadmium, in the lens —another contributing factor to the condition.xvii

As worrying as the condition may sound, there are a number of ways to manage cataracts which you can find in our article.


Glaucoma

Glaucoma is indicted by the progressive deterioration of the optic nerve, the part of the eye that sends visual information to your brain, which can result in a complete or partial loss of vision.xviii The condition itself is more common than you might think, with 60 million affected people worldwide.xix Since symptoms often develop over a period of time, a comprehensive eye exam is the only way to detect this disease, meaning it can lay undetected for many years.

Studies in the past few years have found a link between smoking and the development of glaucoma. Since glaucoma is known to be caused by compromised blood flow to the optic nerve, cigarette smoke may contribute to this by increasing the formation of plaque in blood vessels.xx In addition, smoking is known to trigger high oxidative stress in the body, which could be another contributing factor of glaucoma.xxi One study found a direct association between smokers and the incidence of glaucoma.xxii, xxiii It’s worth noting that in contrast to some other risk factors such as age and family history, smoking is manageable. By changing this habit, you could reduce the likelihood of developing glaucoma.

Although there’s no simple cure for glaucoma, changing your diet alongside quitting smoking is a less invasive option.


Dry eye syndrome

Dry eyes are often characterised by burning, itchiness, tearing, discharge, redness, and light sensitivity.xxiv Smoking has been widely found to increase these symptoms of irritation. Cigarettes contain over 7,000 chemicals – many of which can aggravate eyes. Studies tell us the chemicals in smoke can rupture the protective layer of tears, sometimes causing irreversible damage.xxv Without this shield to keep eyes lubricated, they can become dry and irritated.

Of course, the best dry eye relief is stopping smoking for good. But we know that doesn’t always happen overnight. In the meantime, use preservative-free artificial tears and gels to soothe your eyes. You may also consider Sea Buckthorn Berry Oil (rich in nourishing fatty-acids), or other forms of natural supplementation, to help keep your eyes lubricated.


Steps to quit smoking altogether

Prioritising your eye health and maintaining good vision is yet another reason to quit smoking. Studies suggest those who ditch the cigarettes will have a 6.7% reduced risk of developing AMD after just one year, and after five years, the risk drops to 1.7%.xxvi To help, we’ve compiled some steps to make quitting a little easier.


Get planning

Set a date, stick to it and make a pledge to yourself. Think ahead to times when passing on a cigarette might be challenging – at a party, for instance. Remember, a craving can only last 5 minutes. So before you give in to that short-lived nicotine high, make a list of quick-fire strategies to distract you: call a friend, make a cup of tea, get some fresh air and go for a walk around the block.


Try nicotine replacements

Nicotine replacement therapy could double your chance of quitting smoking for good.xxvii Alongside tablets, patches, gum and nasal spray, you could even opt for an e-cigarette to wean yourself off. When you’re out, try placing your beverage in the hand you smoke with, and drink it through a straw. This will keep your hands and mouth busy.


Get support

Know a friend or family member who also wants to quit? Well, now’s the time to join forces to keep the anti-smoking sentiment high. For additional support and advice, you can also call the NHS Smokefree Helpline.

Want to discover even more ways to keep your eyes healthy? Feel free to browse the rest of our Vision Health Hub.



References:

  1. , , , et al. Smoking and blindness. Strong evidence for the link, but public awareness lags. Br Med J. 328, 357–358.

  2. Tobacco smoking and blindness - The ignored epidemic. Saudi Journal of Ophthalmology, 30(3), 149.

  3. NHS.uk. Smokefree - Effects of smoking on the body. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/smokefree/why-quit/smoking-health-problems [Accessed 21 Sep. 2018.]

  4. Effects of cigarette smoke on the immune system. Nat Rev Immunol. 2(5): 372-7.

  5. Nei.nih.gov. Healthy Eyes Facts - National Eye Institute. Available online: https://nei.nih.gov/health/healthyeyes [Accessed 21 Sep. 2018.]

  6. , , Keypathophysiologic pathways in age-related macular disease. Graefe's Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmolog, 242(8), 710-716.

  7. and Nicotine and pathological angiogenesis. Life Sciences, 91(21-22), 1058-1064.

  8. and , , , , Smoking and age-related macular degeneration: a review of association. Eye, 19(9), 935-944.

  9. , et al. Smoking and age-related macular degeneration, 935-944.

  10. WebMD. Age-Related Macular Degeneration Treatment. Available online: https://www.webmd.com/eye-health/macular-degeneration/age-related-macular-degeneration-treatment#1

  11. World Health Organization. Causes of blindness and visual impairment. Available online: http://www.who.int/blindness/causes/en [Accessed 21 Sep. 2018]

  12. National Eye Institute. Cataracts. Available online: https://nei.nih.gov/health/cataract/cataract_facts

  13. and , and Knowledge about the relationship between smoking and blindness in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia: results from the International Tobacco Control Four-Country Project. Optometry. Journal of the American Optometric Association, 82(5), 310-317.

  14. , , and Smoking and cataract: Review of causal association. Journal of Cataract & Refractive Surgery, 31(12), 2395-2404.

  15. , et al. Knowledge about the relationship between smoking, 310-317.

  16. , , , and Influence of tobacco use on cataract development. British Journal of Ophthalmology, 90(11), 1374-1377.

  17. National Eye Institute. Glaucoma. Available online: https://nei.nih.gov/health/glaucoma/glaucoma_facts

  18. Determination of blood flow velocity in vessels of the bulbar conjunctiva. Prezglad Elektrotechniczny, 1(8), 107-110.

  19. ,, , , , , , , , , , , , , and Effect of Cigarette Smoking on the Oxidant/Antioxidant Balance in Healthy Subjects. American Journal of Therapeutics, 14(2), 189-193.

  20. ,, , , and Smoking and incidence of glaucoma. Medicine, 96(1), 5761.

  21. , et al. Smoking and incidence of glaucoma, 5761.

  22. National Eye Institute. Glaucoma. Available online: https://nei.nih.gov/health/glaucoma/glaucoma_facts

  23. and Prevalence and associated factors of dry eye: Our experience in patients above 40 years of age at a Tertiary Care Center. Oman Journal of Ophthalmology, 8(3), 151.

  24. ,, , , and Smoking and the risk of dry eye: a Meta-analysis. International Journal of Ophthalmology, 9(10), 1480–1486.

  25. The National. Another clear-eyed reason to quit smoking: your vision. Available online: https://www.thenational.ae/another-clear-eyed-reason-to-quit-smoking-your-vision-1.395869  [Accessed 22 Sep. 2018]

  26. NHS.uk. 10 self-help tips to stop smoking. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/quit-smoking/10-self-help-tips-to-stop-smoking [Accessed 23 Sep. 2018]





 

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