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Can Smoking Harm Your Eyesight?

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Cigarette smoke is extremely toxic as it contains more than 4,000 active compounds and carcinogens. These include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide and tar.

Scientists have been investigating the effect of these harmful chemicals since decades. Damaging effects of smoking have surfaced, which are directly linked to vision loss, macular degeneration and cataracts.

Researchers have discovered that long-term smoking deteriorates eye health to a notable extent.

Irritation and Itching

It is not uncommon for non-smokers to complain of eye irritation when they are exposed to cigarette smoke.

The fumes inflame and irritate the conjunctiva, which is a thin and clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye. This results in a painful condition called conjunctivitis. Tobacco smoke also causes bloodshot eyes.

Imagine how this smoke affects smokers every time they light up a cigarette.


Statistics reveal that smokers are more at risk of acquiring cataracts than non-smokers. The risk triples in case you are a chain smoker.

Cataracts occur when the eye’s naturally clear lens becomes cloudy. This medical condition happens over time and is age-related. It causes the vision to become blurry with an increased sensitivity to glare. It’s as if they see everything through a smokescreen.

Doctors have identified that smoking can heavily contribute to cataract damage by changing the cells of the lens via oxidation. Smoking is also believed to form an accumulation of heavy metals such as cadmium in the lens of your eyes.

Macular Degeneration

Smoking is also known to increase an individual’s risk of developing macular degeneration. Studies also indicate that this medical condition is also known to affect people who do not smoke, but are exposed to passive smoking.

Macular degeneration causes the macula to deteriorate with time. The macula is the central part of the retina that enables us to perceive details of whatever we look at. When the macula wears out, we experience blurred vision, blind spots and distortions.

It is believed that smoking also interferes with blood flow to the retina. It might also increase the harmful effects of oxidation on the macula.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Smoking augments the risks of all medical conditions that are associated with diabetes such as stroke, circulation problems and heart disease.

The carbon monoxide and nicotine in cigarette smoke is considered as notable causes eliminating the elasticity in your arteries.

Diabetic retinopathy is a diabetes induced eye complication in which the blood vessels that deliver oxygen to the retina are damaged by elevated blood sugar levels.

Other Eye Health Problems Related to Smoking

Cigarette smoking is linked to several other eye problems such as:

  • Optic nerve damage
  • Dry eyes
  • Lazy eyes

How to avoid these problems?

Smokers who hope to avoid smoking-related vision loss can improve their eye health by attempting to quit or reduce smoking. Quitters have a 6.7% reduced risk of acquiring macular degeneration after a year. The risk drops by another 5% after five years.

The results are also promising for cataracts. Although the healing process is slow; the eyes eventually recover from the condition.


Written by Total Focus

At Total Focus Optometry, we’ve spent the last 70 years building meaningful relationships with our patients and their families. From routine eye exams to contact lens fittings we offer our patients a variety of services to meet their eye care needs.

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