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Did you know that smoking cigarettes is just as bad for your eyes as it is for your lungs and heart? Smoking puts you at significantly higher risk of a number of eye diseases, and is so bad for your health that it can lead to permanent vision loss or blindness. We understand that quitting smoking is hard, but the prospect of keeping your vision intact should be reason enough to stop smoking immediately. Smoking greatly increases your risk for a number of eye diseases — many of which are not reversible.

DRY EYE SYNDROME

Dry eye syndrome may be the least worrisome of smoking-related eye disorders, but it can make your life quite uncomfortable. Smokers are twice as likely to suffer from dry eye syndrome than non-smokers. This syndrome typically starts with damaged blood vessels in the eye, making your eyes appear red and irritated. According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin, the eyes being to feel gritty as if there is dust or sand in the eyes as dry eye syndrome progresses. Researchers have found that patients see significant improvement in symptoms within a few days of giving up smoking. The relief from itchy, dry eyes that feel as if they are burning can be tremendous, and will vastly improve your overall quality of life.

AGE-RELATED MACULAR DEGENERATION (AMD)

We’ve discussed age-related macular degeneration several times, but the best way to avoid developing it is to never smoke. If you do smoke, stop immediately. AMD is three to four times more likely to develop in smokers, and nonsmokers who live with smokers double their risk of developing AMD as a result of breathing in secondhand smoke. Smokers may either develop dry or wet AMD, and although dry AMD is much more common, wet AMD develops far more quickly and neither form is reversible. In both types of AMD, central vision is lost first, making reading and seeing details difficult. Over time, vision overall beings to decrease, and eventually may lead to blindness.

CATARACTS

Cataracts are common as we get older, and more than half of all Americans will have had either cataracts or cataract surgery by 80 years of age. According to a study by Harvard Medical School, however, smokers are significantly more at risk for developing vision-threatening cataracts that may or may not respond to surgery.

GLAUCOMA

Smokers are at high risk of developing high blood pressure, cataracts, and diabetes. These conditions all increase the risk for developing glaucoma, although there is currently no known direct causal link between smoking and glaucoma risk. The difficulty with developing glaucoma is that many patients don’t realize they have the condition until it is in its advanced stage. By not smoking, you are lowering your risk for hypertension, cataracts, and diabetes, and thus lowering your risk for glaucoma.

DIABETIC RETINOPATHY

As noted above, smoking increases your risk for developing diabetes, and one of the most serious complications of diabetes is diabetic retinopathy. In this condition, blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye break down, become blocked, or leak. Over time, new blood vessels may grow on the retina and prevent it from functioning properly. Eventually, this condition may affect vision and lead to blindness.

We understand that giving up smoking is not easy, but at the same time, continuing to smoke puts your health and vision at great risk. We encourage you to discuss options for quitting at your next eye exam, primary care appointment, or the next time you see a health practitioner. To discuss smoking and your eye health with your Silverstein Eye Centers specialist, call us today at 816-358-3600 to schedule an appointment.

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