Healthy Habits: Smoking & Your Eyes

As a nation, we can agree that smoking is bad for us. Nicotine is an addictive drug that can lead to major health issues including cancer and heart disease. It’s not easy on the eyes, either.

Smoking elevates the risk of eye conditions that can lead to vision trouble and even blindness, and that risk increases with increased smoking, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

And it’s not just traditional cigarettes that can cause health problems. Vaping and smokeless tobacco products like e-cigarettes are not safe either. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list these substances contained in the aerosol from e-cigarettes: nicotine (often whether it’s listed or not), volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals such as nickel and lead. While the side effects of “e-juice” or flavor additives on the lungs, face, and eyes are still unknown, one commonly-reported side effect of vaping is dehydration, which can cause dry and itchy eyes. Chronically dry and itching eyes can damage the cornea, the outermost layer of the eye.

Smoking is a risk factor for these eye conditions.

  • Uveitis is a form of eye inflammation that can lead to complications such as glaucoma, cataracts and permanent vision loss. A study published in the National Institutes of Health links smoking and uveitis risk and suggests that people who smoke are twice as likely as nonsmokers to develop uveitis.
  • A Cataract clouds the lens in the eye. Smoking increases the risk of nuclear cataracts in particular, which form in the center of the eye.
  • Age-related macular degeneration affects the macula, the central part of the retina, making it harder to do things like driving and reading. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is most common in people over 50 and in smokers.
  • Diabetics are at risk of retinopathy, damaged blood vessels in the retina, and smoking increases this risk. At its worst, diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness.
  • Retinopathy of prematurity is a condition affecting babies who are born before week 31 of pregnancy. Studies have shown that smoking while pregnant can cause premature birth. For information on smoking and pregnancy, visit the Centers for Disease Control.

The good news is that quitting smoking can reduce the risks for some eye diseases, bringing them almost as low as for people who have never smoked, according to the AAO. Do you need help quitting? The American Cancer Society is a great place to start.

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