Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you. There are countless reminders on television, billboards, and of course, the internet. We’re all aware of how much it can damage our bodies – that it affects the heart, lungs and other organs, that it can cause cancer, and even that it’s the leading preventable cause of death in the United States – and yet still, cigarettes fly off the shelves in convenience stores all across the country every single day.

    What many people who smoke don’t realize how terrible it is for their eyes too.

    Smoking and Vision

    Did you know smoking can lead to blindness? In fact, it’s one of the leading causes of vision loss. Smoking cigarettes can cause a variety of eye health issues, including:

    Glaucoma: Recent studies have determined there is a strong association between smoking cigarettes and developing conditions like cataracts, diabetes and high blood pressure – all of which are risk factors for damaging eye conditions like glaucoma. Glaucoma, although fairly common, is a serious condition which, if left untreated, can lead to a dying-off of nerve cells in the eye and ultimately, vision loss.

    Cataracts: While it’s true that cataracts are extremely common, heavy smokers have a much greater risk of developing them than light smokers and non-smokers.

    Macular Degeneration: Smoking significantly increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration. Smokers are three to four times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers. And for non-smokers living with people who smoke, the risk nearly doubles.


    Uveitis: People who smoke more than double their risk of developing uveitis. It’s an extremely uncomfortable condition in which the eye’s middle layer, known as the uvea, becomes inflamed. It can damage the various structures of the eye, including the retina and iris, and over time, can lead to glaucoma, cataracts, and even retinal detachment – an eye sight emergency!

    Diabetic Retinopathy: While cigarettes don’t necessarily cause diabetic retinopathy directly, they do increase the likelihood of developing diabetes. And once you have it, the disease can be very difficult to manage – especially if you smoke. Complications can develop that affect many systems in your body, and the health of your eyes can be severely compromised. Complications of diabetes made worse by smoking include retinopathy, heart disease, stroke, vascular disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, foot problems and many others.

    Dry Eye Syndrome: If you’ve ever experienced the misery of dry, irritated eyes, you already know how uncomfortable it can be. Smoking only makes the condition worse. And in fact, smokers are more than twice as likely to develop dry eye syndrome. This is much more serious than the occasional irritation we’ve all experienced in the cold, windy winter months. Dry eye syndrome can lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated.

    Prenatal Eye Diseases: Pregnant woman who smoke can inadvertently impact their babies’ eye health and vision. The toxins present in cigarettes are absorbed by the mother and travel through the bloodstream to the placenta, leading to a host of developmental problems for the child while in utero. Often, infants can develop retinopathy, strabismus, and even suffer from an under-developed optic nerve which is a leading cause of blindness in children.

    The Dangers of Smoking

    Put simply, smoking cigarettes is just about the worst thing you can do to your body. Aside from the dozens of adverse health effects, the toll it takes on your eye health is extreme. Strokes and high blood pressure are common among life-long smokers, and both conditions can severely damage the blood vessels inside the eye.

    Quit smoking

    While many of the conditions listed above are treatable, they certainly may not be easy to manage, and without proper treatment, they can lead to permanent vision loss. Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do to improve your health – especially if you’ve been a life-long smoker. The longer you wait, the more likely it is that you’ll develop the conditions listed above, but quitting smoking today will have an immediate impact:

    • In as little as two hours, your blood pressure, heart rate, and lung function will improve.
    • Within 12 hours, the carbon monoxide levels in your bloodstream will return to normal.
    • Within 48 hours, nerve endings will begin to regenerate, and you’ll be able to taste and smell properly again.
    • After one year, your risk for heart disease will drop 50%

    It’s never been a better time to quit smoking. With all the data that’s available, there’s no question that diseases caused by smoking (including blindness) are entirely preventable. Please consult with your physician for advice on how to safely quit, and schedule an eye exam to identify any damage as soon as possible! With early detection and treatment, the effects of smoking on your eyes can be properly managed to prevent vision loss.

    Posted May 31, 2017 by Silverstein Eye Centers
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