While many people know the risks of smoking to their overall health, often there is less awareness of the impact of smoking on vision and the eyes. Avoiding smoking or taking steps to quit, lowers your risk of vision impairment and vision loss. Smokers are at higher risk for the following conditions:
Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
The macula is the central most part of the retina, the inner layer at the back of the eye responsible for detailed central vision. It is used for reading, driving and recognizing people’s faces. Macular degeneration is a condition that causes the center of your vision to blur while the side or peripheral vision remains unaffected. It is generally related to the aging process, and is also commonly referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It is the leading cause of blindness in North America in adults over the age of 55. High-risk groups include smokers and people who have had extensive UV exposure. AMD is also associated with conditions such as high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, and those with a family history of AMD.
Diabetes and its complications can affect many parts of the eye. The most serious eye problem associated with diabetes is diabetic retinopathy which occurs when there is a weakening or swelling of the tiny blood vessels in the retina of your eye, resulting in blood leakage, the growth of new blood vessels and other changes. If diabetic retinopathy is left untreated, blindness can result. Several factors that increase the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy include smoking, high blood pressure, drinking alcohol and pregnancy.
Cataracts are the result of aging changes that occur within your eyes that cause the lenses to become cloudy. This may be due to advancing age or it may be the result of heredity, an injury or a disease. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation present in sunlight, cigarette smoke or the use of certain medications is also risk factors for the development of cataracts. Cataracts usually develop in both eyes, but often at different rates.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
A common cause of temporary vision loss is known as a transient ischemic attack. It is also known as a TIA, or a “mini-stroke,” and tends to occur most often in seniors. A TIA usually lasts only a matter of minutes and causes no permanent damage, but it should not be ignored since approximately one third of people who experience a TIA go on to have a stroke within a year. Risk factors for TIA include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, IV drug use, cocaine use, excessive alcohol, use of oral contraceptives, and lack of exercise causing obesity.
Need help to quit smoking?
You can talk to your optometrist about how smoking is affecting your vision and how to get help quitting. There are many resources available including www.quitnow.ca or the Smokers’ Helpline can be reached toll-free at 1-866-366-3667 from anywhere in Canada or online www.smokershelpline.ca