How Cigarette Smoking Affects Your Eyes

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Cigarette smoking can damage your eyes.

Everyone has heard about the dangers of smoking and how it can cause lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), but smoking can also cause eye disease.

Several studies have shown that smoking doubles the risk of developing cataracts and heavy smoking triples the risk. Research has also shown that smoking increases the likelihood of developing age-related macular degeneration between two and four times the normal risk.

Some studies indicate that people with diabetes (high blood sugar levels) who also smoke have a higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy and damage to the blood vessels in the retina.

What’s in Cigarette Smoke

Harmful substances in cigarettes include carbon monoxide, tar, and toxic chemicals. There are more than 5,000 chemicals in every cigarette. The following are just a few of the damaging chemicals in cigarettes:

  • Ammonia—used to boost the absorption rate of nicotine.
  • Arsenic—used to protect tobacco plants from pests but remains in the cigarette.
  • Formaldehyde—is not added but is produced when other chemicals in cigarettes are burned.
  • Benzene—is another byproduct from burning a cigarette and can be found in pesticides and gasoline

How Cigarette Smoking Affects Your Eyes

Many of those 5,000 chemicals in cigarettes can damage the structures in the eye such as the lenses, the retina, the macula, and the optic nerve.

  • The lens is the clear part of the eye that allows light to pass through and reach the retina. 
  • The retina is the light-sensitive tissue that lines the inside of the eye. 
  • The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina and the part that is responsible for our central vision, most of our color vision, and the fine detail we are able to see. 
  • The optic nerve is a bundle of more than 1 million nerve fibers that carry visual signals to the brain.

Smokers are also more likely to suffer from dry eye—a condition in which the eye does not produce enough lubricating tears. Symptoms of dry eye include burning, itching, and intermittent blurring of vision.

Some of the damage from smoking cigarettes is caused by the smoke-derived oxidants that increase oxidative stress. Which means that within your body the oxidants and antioxidants are out of balance because there is an overgrowth of free radicals that can damage DNA and the proteins in your body.

More Reasons to Quit Cigarette Smoking

Even if you have been smoking for years, quitting will reduce the risks of developing these types of eye conditions as well as reducing the risks of other smoking-related diseases.

Schedule a comprehensive eye exam every year to catch any developing disease early because early treatment for many eye diseases is the key to preventing permanent vision loss.

Gregory Scimeca, M.D.
Ophthalmologist and Medical Director
The Eye Professionals

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