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Smoking and your eye health

It is well known that smoking is detrimental to your health. Smoking tobacco harms every organ in your body— your eyes included. Smoking tobacco is the single most preventable cause of death and disease in Canada.

Most smokers are not aware that their tobacco use is a preventable cause of blindness. 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:

  • Dry Eye and Contact LensesSmoking can affect the skin around the eyes and the tissues on the eye’s surface. Smoke is a drying agent that increases evaporation of the eye’s natural moisture which can lead to discomfort and irritation, especially when contact lenses are worn. The chemicals found in tobacco smoke have been found to cause cellular damage leading to delayed healing rates and increased risk of corneal infections. In some studies, smokers who wear contact lenses were shown to have a four times increased risk of infection.
  • UveitisUveitis is more common in smokers than non-smokers. Uveitis harms the structures of the eye, and can lead to cataract formation, glaucoma, and retinal detachment, and vision loss.
  • Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)Macular degeneration is a condition that causes the center of your vision to blur while the side or peripheral vision remains unaffected. Age is the most significant risk factor overall, but smoking is the leading preventable risk factor for developing AMD.
  • Diabetic RetinopathyDiabetes and its complications can affect many parts of the eye. Diabetic retinopathy is the swelling and damage to the blood vessels of the retina related to diabetes. Smoking increases the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, which can ultimately cause blindness.
  • CataractsCataracts are a cloudiness of the lens in the eyes that occurs with age. Smoking, UV exposure, or the use of certain medications are risk factors for the development of cataracts at earlier ages.
  • Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): Commonly known as a mini-stroke, TIAs can cause of temporary vision loss. A TIA may only last a few minutes but it should not be ignored; roughly 15 percent of patients who survive their first TIA will suffer another one within one year. Risk factors for TIA: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, IV drug use, cocaine use, excessive alcohol, use of oral contraceptives, and obesity.
  • Grave’s Disease: Thyroid ophthalmopathy, also known as Grave’s Disease, is an autoimmune disease characterized by an increase in the volume of fatty connective tissue and enlargement of the muscles around the eye. Smoking is a major risk factor.
  • Pregnancy and Infant Eye Disease: Smoking while pregnant increases the chance of many fetal and infant eye disorders, among other serious health problems. Studies have found that smoking during pregnancy is associated with premature births and higher rates of strabismus (crossed eyes), refractive errors, retinal problems, and optic nerve problems.