Last Updated: April 16, 2023
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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:
Smoking, Dry Eye and Contact Lenses
Smoking can affect the skin around the eyes, the environment in which the eyes function, 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 dry eye symptoms, 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 four times the increased risk of infection that could lead to loss of clear vision.
Uveitis is more common in smokers than non-smokers. Uveitis is the inflammation of the uvea (the eye’s middle layer). 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. It is generally related to the aging process. High-risk groups include smokers and people who have had extensive UV exposure.
Diabetes 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 that can result in blood leakage 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 the eye that cloud the lens. This may be due to aging, genetics, an injury, or a disease. Cataracts usually develop in both eyes, but often at different rates. Smoking, sun exposure, or the use of certain medications are also risk factors for the development of cataracts.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
The most common cause of temporary vision loss is known as a transient ischemic attack. It is more commonly known as a TIA, or a “mini-stroke,” and tends to occur most often in seniors. A TIA may only last a matter of minutes but it should not be ignored since roughly 15 percent of patients who survive their first TIA or mini-stroke 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 lack of exercise causing obesity.
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. Women who smoke during pregnancy transmit dangerous toxins to the placenta, which can harm the unborn child. 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.
Smoking and Blindness: What Optometrists Want Their Patients to See
Most smokers are not aware that their tobacco use is a preventable cause of blindness. Despite the important role optometrists can have impacting patient health choices; their voice has been largely silent in the development of tobacco cessation practice guidelines and health promotion strategies. In this study, we use the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (ITC) Four Country Survey to describe the level of Canadian smokers’ knowledge of the association of smoking with blindness and we use focus groups to elicit ideas from Canadian optometrists and senior optometry students about blindness-related graphic warning labels.Canadian Journal Optometry (CJO), 2011