Unknown to many, smoking can indeed impair a smoker’s vision, and it’s not just because the smoke gets in your eyes (though that does negatively affect your eyes too).
Cigarette smoke contains 7,000 chemicals, with over 69 of these known to be carcinogenic. Each time a smoker inhales this smoke, they not only risk damage to their eyes, but also their stomach, lungs, blood health, and various other organs and systems.
The chemicals you inhale can accelerate the growth of cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and many other conditions that can make things go beyond blurry and uncomfortable.
Let’s take a look at the relationship between smoking and eyesight in this post.
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How does smoking affect eyesight? Cataract formations are clear evidence of smoking’s negative effect on the eyes.
A brief background on cataracts
Cataracts are the cloudy areas that develop over the lens of your eye. In healthy eyes, the lens can clearly focus light for the brain to create images, allowing us to see.
Smokers are at a higher risk of developing cataracts than non-smokers, especially for middle-aged and older adults who smoke.
This risk increases because the eyes can absorb the toxic chemicals from cigarette smoke, given its proximity when consuming tobacco, causing a buildup of protein that evolves into a cloudy patch.
More importantly, the 7,000 or so chemicals the body constantly absorbs from inhaling cigarette smoke increase the level of free radicals in the body.
These chemicals cause high oxidative stress in the body, accelerating cartilage degeneration resulting in rheumatoid arthritis and damaging the proteins and lipids in the eyes, causing areas over the lens to degrade and become cloudy.
Removing cataracts can be very expensive, and until then, the cloudy mass over your lens can be uncomfortable and leave you with heavily impaired vision.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Can smoking affect eyesight? Aside from cataracts, your eyes will develop AMD faster than non-smokers.
Let’s talk shortly about AMD. The macula in the eyes (a light-sensitive component of the retina that’s essential for sharpening vision) degrades over time. The speed of degeneration varies between people.
But, smokers have undeniably faster AMD development.
Once again, the chemicals you inhale from cigarettes compromise the blood vessels that nourish the retina. In a healthy pair of eyes, good blood health keeps the retina properly supplied with the nutrients it needs.
When you smoke, the chemicals the body absorbs constrict the blood vessels that connect to the retina, effectively accelerating its degeneration in smokers than otherwise.
Importantly, free radicals from cigarettes that increase oxidative stress can also speed up retinal damage.
Does your eyesight improve after quitting smoking? Once your body has lower oxidative stress and better blood pressure after quitting, you are most likely at a lower risk of feeling any AMD-related symptoms.
The uvea in the eye helps you discern the distance of an object you’re observing and helps the iris adjust to higher or lower light levels for better vision.
Smoking causes inflamed uveas in smokers, causing pain and turning their eyes red. Prolonged uveitis can result in retinal damage over time, which, as mentioned, can significantly speed up AMD and the formation of cataracts.
Because the immune system identifies the chemicals in smoke as dangerous, it sends antibodies to protect the uvea, inflaming it.
If you feel your eyes are turning red and your vision is a bit blurry each time you light a ciggie, you’re probably having recurring uveitis. By stopping smoking, you lower the risk of having red, painful eyes and prolong your eye health.
We’ve established that chemicals in smoke cause cataracts, AMD, and uveitis in the eyes. In some cases, the combined effects of these conditions can lead to retinal detachment, a very serious eye condition.
At a certain level, the constricted blood vessels of smokers that undernourish the retina and increase the risk of oxidative stress will cause the retina to pull away from its regular position.
This realignment or possible detachment can result in sudden vision loss – a full blackout in one or both of your eyes.
Yes, it is as scary as it sounds to lose your vision instantly – It’s like someone kicked the cord out of the TV during movie night.
Smokers are at a high risk of suffering from retinal detachment in one or both eyes.
You’ll need surgery to reattach the detached retina, a process that’s both expensive and only works on 9 out of 10 people. While the odds may sound manageable for this surgery, why bother with the risk and cost if you can stop smoking and avoid retinal detachment?
Dry Eye Syndrome
Do your eyes feel dry or scratchy in the morning?
One way to test this is to look up and down, then left and right. If you feel some form of discomfort regardless of severity, your eyes have very low tear production – a symptom of dry eye syndrome.
While this is a relatively ‘harmless’ eye condition among the others we’ve listed, no one should take dry eye syndrome lightly.
If left untreated (or if you keep on smoking and drying the lubrication in your eyes), dry eye syndrome can lead to surface damage leading to eye inflammation and potential corneal ulcers due to scratches and abrasion.
It can even lead to vision loss in severe cases.
Smoking is a risk factor for prolonged dry eye syndrome. Nicotine itself is a diuretic, reducing the water necessary for the eyes to produce enough tears.
More importantly, the smoke that gets into your eyes does not just deposit toxins that form cataracts and irritate the uvea – it also evaporates the tears that lubricate your eyes.
Once you stop smoking, you can definitely find relief as your tear production kicks back in.
Can Quitting Smoking Restore My Eye Health?
Quitting smoking certainly has many benefits for your overall wellness and will decrease the risk of eye conditions mentioned earlier – except for one.
AMD is irreversible, but stopping smoking can slow down its progress. It’s still a win for any motivated smoker to slow down the macula’s degeneration with better lifestyle choices.
It’s better to lengthen the health of your eyes so that you can enjoy everything beautiful that life has to offer in full colour with sharp vision.
The eyes are the windows to the soul and the windows that let us observe, do fulfilling work, and are essential to a better and greatly enjoyable quality of life. Smoking is a preventable burden that significantly reduces the risk of eye diseases.
If you’re having trouble quitting, we’re always here to help you get started.
Smokefree Clinic gives you access to many medically reviewed and trustworthy resources that can inform and aid you in your path to wellness, so have a look around!
If you’re ready to get started, Smokefree can connect you to bulk-billing Australian healthcare professionals who excel in helping patients quit smoking for good, including using responsible vaping products where appropriate.
Click here to book your bulk-billed telehealth consultation with an Australian healthcare professional and quit smoking today.