Smoking has a variety of adverse effects on the body and the eyes are no exception. It is often a risk factor for developing several diseases or exacerbates existing conditions. Here are some of the interactions that smoking has with the health of your eyes.
Smoking Worsens Macular Degeneration (ARMD)
Smoking is one of the main modifiable changes to prevent age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) development and progression. In ARMD, the nerve fiber at the back of the eye, the retina, is damaged. Specifically, this disease involves damage to the macula, the portion of the area on the retina that is responsible for your central vision. This results in loss of vision centrally and currently, there is no treatment that can reverse this disease. Various studies have shown that smokers are more likely to develop ARMD compared to non-smokers.
Smoking Can Cause Cataracts
A cataract is the clouding and yellowing of the lens within your eye. This lens is responsible for focusing light on the nerve fiber layer at the back of the eye. The clouding causes people to experience blurry vision, glare, and a dimming effect with a diminished ability to distinguish colors. The change occurs gradually and the treatment includes cataract surgery to remove and replace the lens within the eye. Smoking increases the risk of developing cataracts and increases the likelihood that surgery will be needed sooner.
Smoking is a risk factor for developing glaucoma as well. Glaucoma involves the loss of peripheral vision due to changes to the optic nerve at the back of the eye. The optic nerve transmits information from the eye to the brain and thus damage to this area will have detrimental effects on vision.
Diabetic Retinopathy and Cigarettes
Diabetic retinopathy (DR) refers to damage to the back of the eye as a result of diabetes. In DR, the blood vessels at the back of the eye are damaged and are leaky. This can result in hemorrhages and can cause swelling. This can blur and distort vision, ultimately leading to blindness if left untreated. Cigarette smoke can increase the likelihood of blockages in the blood vessels and the dysfunction of the vessel walls. This can in turn increase the chance of leakage of blood or the formation of excess and weak blood vessels that can cause permanent damage to the eye.
Dry Eye Disease is Exacerbated by Smoking
Dry eye disease could easily be exacerbated by the smoke produced by cigarettes. The smoke contains many chemicals and debris that can enter the eye, irritating and drying out the tear film that lubricates the front surface of the eye. Secondhand smokers will often also be consistently affected by this and unfortunately can develop dry eye disease as well. Symptoms include irritated, red, gritty, and itchy eyes.