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Is smoking bad for your eyesight?
Medically reviewed by Alastair Lockwood on 26 April 2021
Yes, smoking is bad for your eyesight and has been linked to many serious health issues. While you inhale smoke into your lungs, the toxins contained in cigarettes can spread throughout your entire body and can affect your eyes.
Can smoking lead to blindness?
Smoking is known to cause serious illnesses such as lung cancer and heart disease. What many don't realise, however, is that smoking has also been linked to vision loss. Long-term effects of smoking show strong relations to eye diseases, and if not treated, you could lose your sight completely.
To prevent vision loss, we recommend quitting smoking and leading a healthier lifestyle. This will highly reduce the risk of threatening eye conditions, and more importantly, help prevent sight loss.
How does smoking affect your eyes?
The effects of smoking can lead to several different ocular problems. Including the following:
- Cataracts - this is when the eye's naturally clear lens becomes cloudy. This can strongly impair your vision and disrupt your day-to-day routine. Those who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day are twice as likely to develop cataracts. Heavy metals found in tobacco smoke is thought to accelerate a cataract
- Age - related macular degeneration - after the age of 50, you are more likely to experience deterioration in your sight. In particular, those who smoke are three times more likely to develop Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). This is a common condition that wears out the macula (the middle part of your vision), causing blurriness, distortions and even blind spots in your central vision
While smoking does not directly cause AMD, many studies have found smokers have a higher chance of developing AMD than people who have never smoked. At the same time, non-smokers who live with smokers are twice as likely to develop AMD
- Dry eye is another effect caused through smoking. Tobacco smoke has over 7,000 chemicals, many of which affect eye health. Exposure to smoke on any level can irritate your eyes, while cigarette fumes can contribute to dry eye syndrome and reduce the amount of oxygen that reaches your eyes. The fumes also breakdown the lipid layer of the tear film, interfering with the production of your tears and causing dry eye symptoms, such as redness, sore eyes, irritation and swelling
- Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes that affects the eye. Blood vessels at the back of the eye become furred up a bit like a kettle does, which results in them becoming both leaky, and the lack of oxygen delivery to nearby tissues stimulates new blood vessel growth. Although this might sound like a good idea, these new blood vessels grow in a haphazard way, and being fragile, if they break and bleed, the eye fills with blood and causes vision loss.
- Smoking and infant eye disease - smoking whilst pregnant increases the risk of your child developing crossed eyes (strabismus) and an underdeveloped optic nerve. Underdeveloped optic nerves are one of the leading causes of blindness in young children. People who smoke while pregnant also increase their chances of having a premature birth. This can cause a wealth of issues for the mother and the baby. Retinopathy of prematurity is one of these and is an eye disease which can potentially cause blindness
- Glaucoma - causes the breakdown of the optic nerve and can lead to vision loss. Unfortunately, diabetes is also linked to glaucoma, and if you are both diabetic and smoke, you increase the chances of being unable to see
- Graves-disease - this eye disease is linked to the number of cigarettes smoked a day. It occurs when the thyroid gland produces an excess thyroid hormone, causing problems to the eyes and many other parts of the body. The results can be a protrusion of the eye, double vision and occasionally permanent visual impairment
- Abnormal eye movements - smoking is associated with nystagmus or abnormal eye movements. This is thought to be a result of the nicotine which disturbs the balance centre in the brain
- Amblyopia - also linked to smoking; this is a loss of vision in both eyes
What happens if cigarette smoke goes in your eyes?
Apart from being irritable in the short-term, toxic damage to the eye is rare.
Does smoking affect contact lenses?
Cigarette smoke in the eye can also contaminate your contact lens, causing it to dry out and become uncomfortable. The chemicals in the smoke can't be washed away with natural tears on their own.
Furthermore, tar and nicotine deposits on your fingers can contaminate your contact lenses when you put them in and take them out. You should always wash your hands thoroughly before handling your lenses.
Does your eyesight get better when you stop smoking?
Stopping smoking can have many health benefits for those with eye diseases, such as:
- Reducing the likelihood of having surgical cataract extraction. This can take around 10-20 years for the risk factor to reduce to that of non-smokers
- Slowing down the progression of AMD
- Reducing the risk of anterior ischemic neuropathy (damage to the optic nerve)
- Improving the response to treatment for Grave's ophthalmology
Quick links:What to do if you have an eye infection?
How dehydration impacts your eyes
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)