Can smoking affect your eyes?

If smoking is a habit, it is time to give up cigarettes. It is not only bad news for your lungs, but also for your eyes. Smoking can affect your eye health in many ways.

Whether you use cigarettes, cigars or others form of smoking, you must know that they are not friends of your health. That is why anti-tobacco warnings and disclaimers are found everywhere โ€“ from cigarette packs to film screenings. We have been repeatedly told that smoking is bad for lungs, teeth and heart. But did you know smoking can also affect your eyes? It can cause eye diseases that can ultimately lead to vision loss, apart from leading to dry eyes. Read on to know the link between smoking and eye health.

How does smoking affect eye health?

Smoking can have detrimental effects on eye health. Here are some ways in which smoking can impact the eyes:

1. Increased risk of cataracts

Smoking may increase the chances of developing cataracts, a clouding of the eyeโ€™s lens that can lead to blurred vision. The harmful chemicals in tobacco may contribute to the oxidative stress and inflammation associated with cataract formation, says senior cataract and refractive surgeon Dr Maramganty Vamshidhar.

Smoking can increase risk of cataracts. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

2. Risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

Smoking is a significant risk factor for AMD, a condition that causes the gradual deterioration of the macula, the central part of the retina. This can result in a loss of central vision, impacting activities like reading and driving. According to a 2022 research shared by the World Health Organization, smokers stand to develop AMD up to 5.5 years earlier than those who donโ€™t smoke.

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3. Dry eye syndrome

Smoking may increase likelihood of developing dry eye syndrome, which occurs when the eyes are not able to produce enough tears or when the tears dry up quickly. The irritants in tobacco smoke can contribute to dryness and discomfort in the eyes, says the expert.

4. Optic nerve damage

The job of optic nerve is to transmit visual signals from the eyes to the brain. Smoking has been linked to damage of the optic nerve, which may lead to glaucoma. Increased intraocular pressure, oxidative stress, and impaired blood flow are potential mechanisms through which smoking could contribute to optic nerve damage.

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5. Impaired colour vision

Smoking may also affect colour vision. Smokers may experience a decrease in their ability to perceive and discriminate colours, particularly in the blue-yellow spectrum. People who consume more than 20 cigarettes in a day may suffer colour vision defects, according to a 1999 study published in Graefeโ€™s Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology.

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What are the symptoms of eye problems related to smoking?

Some of the symptoms of smoking-related eye issues are:

  • Blurred or distorted vision.
  • Dryness, burning, or itching sensations.
  • Increased sensitivity to light.
  • Difficulty seeing in low light.
  • Vision loss or dark spots in the visual field.

Is secondhand smoke harmful to the eyes?

Secondhand smoke, also known as passive smoke or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), is harmful to the eyes and can contribute to various eye-related issues, says Dr Vamshidhar. A 2022 research shared by the World Health Organization pointed out that individuals who stay with tobacco users are twice as likely to develop age-related macular degeneration from secondhand smoke.

Woman sitting near a smoker
Secondhand smoke can also affect your eyes. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Secondhand smoke can also negatively impact eye health in the following ways โ€“

  • Irritation and discomfort
  • Aggravation of allergic conjunctivitis
  • Exacerbation of pre-existing eye conditions.

Stopping smoking immediately can lead to significant health improvements for people. The positive effects begin shortly after quitting and continue to accumulate over time, says the expert. Smoking cessation enhances blood circulation, benefiting the eyes and reducing the risk of vascular damage.

If you quit smoking, it will contribute to overall eye health, improving vision and reducing the likelihood of various eye-related problems.

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