Smoking and Your Eyes

Most of us are more than familiar with the raft of health problems associated with smoking and second-hand smoke, but did you know tobacco use is a preventable cause of blindness?

Besides being the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Canada, smoking is also guilty of contributing significantly to vision impairment and loss. Avoiding smoking or taking steps to quit will decrease your risk of these consequences.

Eye problems caused by smoking

  • Cataracts – while the clouding of our eyes’ lenses is a result of aging (and related factors like genetics, disease or injury), this process can be significantly accelerated by sun exposure and smoking.
  • Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) – this condition blurs your central vision while leaving peripheral vision unaffected; as with cataracts, aging is a prime risk factor, but UV exposure and tobacco use push up those risk factors.
  • Uveitis – much more commonly seen in smokers than non-smokers, in this condition inflammation of the eye’s middle layer (uvea) harms the structures of the eye and can lead to cataracts, retinal detachment, glaucoma, and ultimately vision loss.
  • Pregnancy and infant eye disease – fetal and infant eye disorders, as well as other health issues in newborns can be caused by smoking while pregnant. Smoking transmits dangerous toxins to the placenta and can lead to premature birth as well as a host of problems for the baby.
  • Diabetic retinopathy – diabetes and its complications are known for causing eye problems, most specifically the swelling of and damage to the blood vessels of the retina. Smoking, high blood pressure, alcohol consumption, and pregnancy can all drive up the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.
  • Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) – a mini stroke is the most common cause of temporary vision loss. It occurs most frequently in seniors. While short in duration, a TIA should be a wake up call: 15% of patients who survive a first TIA will experience another one within a year. A number of preventable risk factors are worth knowing including smoking.
  • Dry Eye – the drying effects of smoke can cause damage to tissues in and around the eyes over the years. Some studies have shown that smokers who wear contact lenses had four times the usual risk level for infection that could lead to compromised vision.

Looking to quit smoking or vaping? The Canadian Cancer Society offers a free Smokers’ Helpline. During the COVID-19 pandemic Smokers’ Helpline remains open 7 days a week to support Canadians in their efforts to quit smoking and vaping.

Photo by Miikka Luotio on Unsplash