Smoking delivers a slew of negative eye-related side effects, including the onset of medical conditions that can lead to blindness.
It increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and other eye conditions.
Quitting smoking is the only way to stave off the risks, although getting healthier in other ways (exercise, weight loss, etc.) can help.
Smoking has a devastating impact on your eye health. People who smoke experience all of the following negative effects related to their eyes:
- Reduced blood flow to the eyes
- Increased presence of fatty deposits in blood vessels
- Abnormal blood clotting
- Exposure to irritants
- Exposure to free radicals
- Exposure to heavy metals like lead and cadmium
These side effects increase the risk of developing serious eye conditions, many of which often lead to blindness.
Quitting smoking is the best way to protect your eyes from this damage. There are many resources available to help you quit smoking if you are ready to do so. If you cannot quit right now, making other changes to your lifestyle can lower your risk of serious eye disease due to smoking.
Eye Diseases Related to Smoking
Smoking increases your risk of developing many eye diseases. Among them are:
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
- Eye infections
- Grave’s disease and thyroid eye disease
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Dry eye syndrome
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
AMD is an eye disease that occurs when the macula becomes damaged due to age. This makes it difficult for your eyes to focus on objects in your central vision. Smokers are 3 to 4 times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers.
Cataracts are cloudy areas that form on the lens of the eye, impeding vision. People who smoke at least 15 cigarettes a day are three times more likely to develop cataracts than non-smokers.
Tobacco smoke contains many harmful chemicals that can contaminate the eyes, leading to frequent eye infections. Smokers who wear contact lenses are at even greater risk. This population is four times more likely to develop an eye infection than the general population.
Uveitis is a dangerous eye disease that occurs when the uvea (the middle layer of the eye) becomes inflamed. The condition is difficult to treat and can lead to blindness. Smokers are about twice as likely to develop uveitis as non-smokers.
Grave’s disease and thyroid Eye Disease
Grave’s disease is a condition that affects thyroid function. People who have it sometimes develop another condition called thyroid eye disease, which increases pressure behind the eyes and may cause them to bulge forward. Smoking greatly increases your risk of developing both Grave’s disease and thyroid eye disease.
Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that affect the optic nerve and may lead to partial or full vision loss. Smokers are around twice as likely to develop glaucoma as non-smokers. Smoking is also strongly linked to developing diabetes and high blood pressure, both or which also increase your risk of glaucoma.
Diabetic retinopathy is a serious complication of diabetes that damages the retina, making it more difficult for your eyes to perceive light. Smoking increases your risk of developing diabetes and makes the condition more difficult to control, making complications more likely.
Dry Eye Syndrome
Dry eyes syndrome is a common condition that occurs when your eyes are unable to remain sufficiently lubricated during normal daily activities. This condition can cause eye pain and make it difficult for you to see clearly. Smokers are more than twice as likely to develop dry eye syndrome than non-smokers.
Signs and Symptoms of Eye Diseases Related to Smoking
Eye damage caused by smoking can produce a wide variety of symptoms. Some of the symptoms you might experience include:
- Blurry vision
- Reduced ability to see colors
- Eye pain
- A sensation of pressure behind the eyes
- Increased eye dryness
- Needing brighter light when reading or doing other visually intensive tasks
- Difficulty driving
- Seeing straight lines as wavy
- Partial or full vision loss
Symptoms rarely show up right away. In many cases, it takes years of smoking damage to produce any noticeable vision effects.
Do not assume that your smoking has not caused any damage to your eyes just because you have not experienced these symptoms. The damage is likely still present and may cause problems for you later in life. The only way to ensure that your eye health does not suffer due to smoking is to quit smoking as soon as possible.
Secondhand Smoke and the Eyes
Secondhand smoke is also linked to an increased risk of developing certain eye conditions.
In some cases, this damage begins prior to birth. Smoking while pregnant makes your unborn child 5 times more likely to develop bacterial meningitis. This condition often leads to eye infections that could seriously damage your child’s sight.
Women who smoke during pregnancy are also at higher risk of premature birth. This puts their babies at risk of developing retinopathy of prematurity, an eye condition that is caused by abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina. This condition may lead to vision loss or total blindness.
Exposure to secondhand smoke has also been linked with choroidal thinning in children aged 6 to 8 years old. Choroidal thinning is associated with several eye health complications, including macular holes and age-related macular degeneration. Children who experience this problem when young may develop severe eye problems like AMD later in life.
Further study is needed to explore the relationship between the length of time a person is exposed to secondhand smoke and the severity of their associated eye health problems. It is likely that these problems become worse over time as the person’s cumulative exposure to secondhand smoke increases.
Tips to Prevent Vision Loss
To prevent vision loss from smoking, quit as soon as possible. If this is not possible, cut down on the number of tobacco products you consume. The less you smoke, the less severe the impacts on your eyes will be.
If you continue to smoke, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of developing serious eye health complications as a result.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise is beneficial to your entire body, including your eyes. It can also help lower your risk of diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic conditions that can lead to eye health complications.
- Eat a healthy diet. Healthy eating is key to maintaining good overall health and supplies your eyes with the nutrients they need.
- Avoid secondhand smoke. Spending time around other smokers not only makes it more difficult for you to quit, but also compounds smoking-related risks to your eye health.
- Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, see your doctor for treatment.
- Wear UV-protected sunglasses and a hat with a wide brim when spending time outdoors. This shields your eyes from the negative effects of UV radiation, many of which aggravate the negative effects of smoking.
Resources for Quitting Smoking
If you are interested in quitting smoking, there are many resources available to help you do it. Some of the most helpful are listed below.
- Support groups
Quitlines are hotlines that people can call to receive medical support during the process of quitting smoking. These lines are staffed by trained professionals who can connect you with local support groups, vouchers for anti-smoking medication and other resources available for people in your state. They can also provide advice on how to safely quit smoking while pregnant or living with chronic disease.
Each state has their own quitlines. You can reach the lines in your state by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW to access the national quitline portal.
QuitSTART is a free government-run smartphone app designed to help people successfully quit smoking. Some of the features it offers include:
- Information on the negative health effects of smoking
- Suggestions to encourage you to continue avoiding smoking
- Challenges to help you explore new activities and distract yourself from smoking
- Detailed statistics that help you track important metrics, such as how many consecutive days you have been smoke-free, how many cravings you have experienced and how much money you have saved on tobacco products
There are many medications available to help you quit smoking. They are available in several different forms, including:
Many of these medications are available over the counter, but some are only available with a prescription. Most work by delivering a supply of nicotine (the main addictive component of cigarettes) into your body. This allows you to keep cravings and withdrawal symptoms at bay without smoking any tobacco products.
See your doctor before beginning to use any anti-smoking medications. You may already be taking pharmaceuticals that will interact poorly with the new drugs.
Smoking support groups are groups of people who are aspiring to quit smoking and pledge to support each other through their struggles.
These groups meet on a regular basis to discuss how their attempts at quitting are going and receive encouragement to keep working toward their goal. They create an open and non-judgmental environment in which to discuss difficulties and provide accountability for members who need external motivation to achieve their goals. Many people find this support to be instrumental in their efforts to quit.
You can find a support group near you by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Smokefree.gov is a website run by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health. It is designed to support individuals in every phase of their journey toward a smoke-free life. The website contains anti-smoking fact sheets, tips to help you resist cravings, suggestions to help you bounce back from a failed attempt at quitting and much more.
Quitting smoking is a difficult and lengthy process. Many people who attempt to quit are not successful on their first attempt. If you relapse during one of your attempts, do not get discouraged. Remind yourself why it is important that you achieve your goal, then try again. Persistence is key to eventual success.
Association between Smoking and Uveitis: Results from the Pacific Ocular Inflammation Study. (June 2015). Ophthalmology.
How to Quit Smoking. (February 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Smoking and Your Eyes. (2022). Canadian Optometric Association.
Beyond irritating, secondhand smoke could harm children’s eyes. (October 2019). American Optometric Association.
Smoking and Eye Disease. (March 2022). American Optometric Association.
Smoking and your eyes. (2022). Royal Free London: NHS Trust Foundation.
Quitlines and Other Cessation Support Resources. (2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Smoking Cessation and Risk of Cataract Extraction among US Women and Men. (January 2002). American Journal of Epidemiology.
Vision Loss, Blindness, and Smoking. (February 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Smoking Can Lead to Vision Loss or Blindness. (December 2009). New York State Department of Health.
Last Updated May 11, 2022
Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.
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