Smoking and Eye Problems - A Guide to Stop Smoking

Smoking can cause watery or sore eyes - to both the smoker and non-smoker alike. There is sometimes nothing more irritating than being on a night out and having itchy, inflamed eyes as result of smoking or being near someone who is a smoker.

If you are a smoker then you might think that watery eyes are one aspect of smoking that you put up with. But, there is evidence to show that smoking can do a lot worse to your eyes than this.

Your eyes contain a network of blood vessels which are delicate structures that transport oxygen and essential nutrients. These are vital for the normal functioning of the eye.

But these delicate vessels can be damaged by cigarette smoke which causes them to itch and take on a bloodshot appearance. Many of the chemicals in cigarette smoke are toxic and potentially damaging to any area of the body which includes the eyes.

Smoking increases the risk of eye disorders such as age related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts and optic neuropathy. And it can lead to eye problems in people with diabetes or Graves ’ disease (overactive thyroid).

If you have an eye condition then smoking will worsen this condition and may even cause blindness.

However the good news is that if you stop smoking then this damage can be stopped or even reversed. This largely depends upon the type and severity of your condition but quitting smoking will reduce the risk of you going blind.

And going blind is the one sense out of the five that we fear losing the most.

Let’s have a look at smoking related eye disorders in more detail...

Eye disorders

Smoking is responsible for the following eye conditions:

  • Cataracts
  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
  • Optic neuropathy
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Thyroid eye disease (Graves’ disease)
  • Dry eyes
  • Glaucoma

Cataracts: these usually occur as a result of the ageing process. The lens of the eye becomes cloudy over a period of time which causes double vision and other symptoms, and affects your eyesight. It can lead to blindness if left untreated.

What smoking does is disrupt the flow of oxygen and nutrients via the blood vessels in the eyes which are vital for their healthy functioning. It also destroys antioxidants in the bloodstream which help to maintain the clear appearance of the lens.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): this is the main cause of blindness in the West, especially in people over the age of 65. This is basically a progressive condition which destroys the macula – an area of the retina which is responsible for clear eyesight.

This results in blurred, distorted vision which can lead to blindness if it is not treated at an early stage. There are two forms of AMD – ‘dry’ AMD and ‘wet’ AMD.

At present there is no cure but it can be treated if caught early on.

Smoking causes damage to the macula which then leads to worsening eyesight.

You can develop AMD whether you smoke or not but the risk of developing this is far higher if you do. But if you stop smoking then that risk drops to the same level as someone who has never smoked.

Optic neuropathy: this is a result of a reduced blood supply via the blood vessels of the eyes. This causes a sudden loss of vision which then leads to blindness.

If you smoke then you are at a much greater risk of developing this condition than a non-smoker, and at a younger age. Atherosclerosis is one trigger for this condition, which is often caused by smoking.

Diabetic retinopathy: as the name says, this is a condition which affects diabetics and is caused by high blood sugar/blood pressure levels. But if you are a diabetic who smokes then you can increase the risk of developing this condition, or worsen the symptoms.

What happens is that high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels leading to the retina which affects the ability of the retina to send images to the brain. Smoking worsens these symptoms as they damage these blood vessels which can lead to blindness.

Another related problem is smoking induced hypoxia: this is where there is a reduced level of oxygen in the blood as a result of the effects of carbon monoxide, which is present in cigarette smoke.

Thyroid eye disease: if you are suffering from Graves ’ disease, caused by an over-active thyroid, then you will find that you have protruding eyeballs, double vision and possibly a loss of eyesight. The worst case scenario is that of blindness.

If you are a smoker who has this condition then you are at a greater risk of these eye problems occurring. And, you are at a high risk of developing the more advanced forms of this condition.

One possible reason for this is that of damage caused to the immune system by smoking.

Dry eyes: the heat and chemicals in cigarette smoke dry out the eyes, leaving them gritty, itchy and sore. Another side effect is that of bloodshot eyes, which you may experience after a night out! You don’t have to be a smoker to have bloodshot eyes as they can occur as a result of being a smoke filled environment.

Glaucoma: this is a condition in which the optic nerve is damaged as a result of increased pressure in the eye which then affects normal vision. It can also be caused by an underlying weakness in the optic nerve.

Cigarette smoke increases pressure within the eye, which puts a strain on the optic nerve. And this strain weakens the nerve to the extent that it affects the eyesight, and may lead to blindness.

Glaucoma is more of a problem for older people so if you are middle aged and a smoker then you are doubly at risk. Further damage to your eyesight can be prevented if your Glaucoma is treated at an early stage. But, the best way of insuring against this is to stop smoking.

Our eyes are very precious and it’s in our best interest to look after them which means avoiding anything which is likely to cause harm to them. And this includes smoking.

Visit our Stopping Smoking section for further help and advice.

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