Smoking - Do You See the Risks?

As week five of Eyes on Health kicks off, we look at the many risks to the health of your eyes caused by smoking. Even though the proportion of UK adults smoking today has declined to its lowest level since recording started in the 1940s, there are still around 10 million who are yet to break the habit. They all have an increased likelihood of suffering a number of eye conditions, as well as the risk of complete vision loss. To put it bluntly, if you're a smoker you're twice as likely to lose your sight compared to a non-smoker.

Eyes on Health, week 5 - Smoking: Your vision at risk
Eyes on Health, week 5 - Smoking: Your vision at risk

It's Stoptober, so what better subject to tackle than smoking? Most people are fully aware of the risks to your body as a result of smoking, such as lung cancer, heart disease, heart attacks and stroke, but there is a great risk to your vision as well.

Macular Degeneration

We've talked about this condition a lot, especially during our Eyes on Health campaign. It is suffered by over 600,000 people in the UK alone and can completely change your life. The central vision gradually deteriorates - can you imagine the daily struggle? The chemicals in tobacco smoke harm your blood cells and also damage the function of the heart and the structure of the blood vessels. The macula at the back of the eye requires the very finest blood supply in the body, therefore, any obstruction of the blood supply will happen to the macula first, before any other part of the body is affected. Smoking also reduces blood flow in the tissue of the eye.

AMD destroys the central vision
AMD destroys the central vision

Smokers are more likely to suffer from macular degeneration, and more likely to develop the disease ten years earlier than non-smokers.

Did you know that from 1st October 2015 it will be illegal to smoke in any vehicle with someone under the age of 18 present. With one less place to smoke, there's one more reason to quit.

Optic Neuropathy

The blood flow throughout the body is decreased as a result of smoking and plaques develop within the arteries (known as atherosclerosis). Anterior ischaemic optic neuropathy can occur when the optic nerve does not receive enough blood. The result? Sudden painless loss of vision or even blindness. Smokers are more likely to develop this and also more likely to develop this at an earlier age.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide and nicotine which are considered to be part of the cause of arteries losing their elasticity, meaning there is more chance of rupture. Because of the increased level of carbon monoxide, there is a lower level of oxygen in the blood.

Diabetic retinopathy is a serious condition found in diabetics, whereby the blood vessels are damaged by higher blood sugar levels. Not enough oxygen reaches the retina, leading to vision problems and blindness.

Blood vessels in the eye
Blood vessels in the eye

Cataracts

As we explain on our cataracts page, a cataract is a clouding of part of your eye called the lens. Your vision becomes blurred because the cataract is like frosted glass, interfering with your sight. It can cause permanent blindness until the cataract is removed surgically.

As stated on ash.org.uk:

Smoking is a major risk factor in the development of cataracts. A review of the evidence revealed that smoking increases the risk of a particular type of cataract - nuclear cataracts. Compared with never smokers, smokers of 20 or more cigarettes per day are at least twice as likely to develop a nuclear cataract. A smoker's risk of developing cataracts increases with the amount smoked; cataracts are more severe in heavy smokers than in light smokers. Antioxidants help maintain lens transparency. Although the exact mechanism by which smoking causes cataracts to develop is not fully understood, the destruction of antioxidant nutrients by tobacco smoke is a plausible hypothesis. Cigarette smoking may also break down other micronutrients critical to healthy eye tissues.

If you're a smoker, hopefully this article will make you stop and think. We've barely touched the tip of the iceberg with the amount of vision problems that can be caused or made worse by smoking. As always, we'll be posting more information on other conditions each day over on our Facebook and Twitter channels.