We’ve all heard how detrimental smoking is to your lung health, but did you know it can severely affect your eyes? When you smoke, the tobacco fumes are absorbed into your lungs and travel to structures throughout your body including your eyes! Smoking contributes to a number of the following symptoms and conditions.
- dry eye
- red eyes and irritation
- age-related macular degeneration
- thyroid eye disease
- nutritional optic neuropathy
- vascular disease
Dry eye is a common condition that affects many people, but did you know smoking can make it much worse. When you smoke the fumes rise up from the cigarette and get in your eyes. The fumes not only destabilize the tear layer on the front surface of your eye causing dryness, but also distribute irritants into the tears themselves causing redness and irritation. Putting down the cigarette is usually the fastest way to help your eyes not only look but feel better.
Macular degeneration is an eye disease that is essentially created by a buildup of dangerous waste material in the central vision area of your retina (the macula). It can cause significant visual distortion, reduced vision or even blindness in more severe cases. If this disease is allowed to progress unchecked, an ophthalmologist may be required to inject your eye with medication on an ongoing basis. Smoking increases your risk of developing macular degeneration by three times. Macular degeneration has no cure and reducing your risk factors of developing the disease, especially by discontinuing smoking, is essential to protecting the quality of your vision.
Thyroid eye disease is a condition caused by a poorly functioning thyroid gland (gland in your body responsible for a number of hormonal processes). In the eye, the hormonal imbalance can not only cause eye dryness, it can actually affect the muscles in your eyes, which can cause double vision or damage your optic nerve (the cable connecting the eye back to the brain). Smoking increases the risk of getting thyroid eye disease in those that already have the condition!
Vascular function involves the ability of your blood vessels to supply blood to different parts of your body. Your eye is supplied by a complex network of blood vessels and many are shared with the blood vessels of your brain. Smoking increases your risk of these blood vessels becoming blocked which can not only cause blindness but also stroke.
Finally, nutritional optic neuropathy is a condition where your eye is damaged from a poor diet. Your eye, like the rest of your body, requires nutrients to keep it healthy and functioning. Smoking can contribute to poor nutrition to your optic nerve, which can cause blind spots, reduced vision and colour vision changes.
Quitting smoking is not easy, but the choice to save your vision and your life should be.
Dr. Tristan Faria