“Smoking is injurious to health. Smoking causes cancer. Smoking kills” – This is a disclaimer that all of us have come across at the beginning of a movie. Today we are going to learn how smoking can affect eye health, sometimes to the extent of blindness.

What is the relation between smoking and the eyes?

People who smoke usually don’t have any eye issues during the early stages but when smoking eventually grows into an addiction, the changes in the eyes begin. Just like a smoker’s lip or tobacco-stained teeth, even the eye starts showing changes such as prominence of eye balls, loss of healthy looking eye lids, and changes to the skin around the eyes due to loss of fat. This is just the cosmetic aspect which most smokers tend to ignore as it is a gradual change.

The first noticeable signs of eye trouble include symptoms such as eye irritation, dryness, redness etc. Many smokers have to visit an eye specialist in their late 40’s and early 50’s for eye conditions that non-smokers generally encounter during their 60’s. People with other conditions such as hypertension (raised blood pressure), uncontrolled diabetes, or thyroid disturbances aren’t even aware about the silent damage to their eye which can negatively impact their vision, slowly but permanently.

What are the symptoms of eye damage due to smoking? Can it be treated?

Let us understand about different eye diseases that can be caused or worsened by smoking and what can we do to prevent and manage these conditions.

Smoking cigarettes, bidi, cigar, etc. will start damaging your eyes through two components:

  • The physical smoke – The warm particulate matter and the ash.
  • The chemical of smoke – The ones that you inhale and exhale when smoking.

These 2 components can lead to the following eye conditions:

  1. Cataract –The chemicals that a smoker inhales accelerates the changes of the natural lens in the eyes and makes it opaque leading to early development of cataract. This will need to be removed surgically at an earlier age.
  2. Glaucoma –Infamously known as the “Silent thief of vision”, glaucoma is an irreversible loss of vision due to damage to the eye nerves. Studies indicate that cigarette smoking can increase your risk for developing glaucoma and this risk is directly proportional to the number of cigarettes you smoke. If detected early, Glaucoma can be managed with medicines, lasers and surgery. Therefore, people who are at risk of developing glaucoma must visit their eye specialist regularly and quit smoking altogether.
  3. Dry eyes –The physical smoke and chemical interactions can make the tear film in the eye unstable, which can lead to dry eyes. Dry eyes can cause constant eye irritation, difficulty in day-to-day activities, and contact lens discomfort. One must stop smoking to avoid worsening of the condition. Dry eyes can be treated with hydrating eye drops for eye surface comfort and special pulsed light and thermal treatment can be applied over the eye lid.
  4. Thyroid eye disease –The chemical interaction of smoke with the bodyworsens this condition and can lead to bulging and redness of both eyes. Treatment is less effective and chances of permanent nerve damage increase if smoking is not stopped immediately.
  5. Effect on retina –The chemical inhaled from smoking eventually leads to degeneration of the centre of the retina (macula), which is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world. People with diabetes who have retina damage can develop bleeding inside the eye and may require challenging retina surgery by a vitreo-retina super-specialist to restore functional vision.
  6. Amblyopia –The toxic and harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage the cells in the brain responsible for vision and can lead to blindness. It is highly recommended to quit smoking to avoid such vision threating conditions.
  7. Damage to blood vessels –It is a very well-known fact that smoking can lead to raised blood pressure and other problems of blood vessels. In the eyes, it can affect the blood supply to the nerves and this can have an impact on both the quality and quantity of vision.

The blood supply to an unborn child’s eyes can also be affected in a similar way which can lead to cortical blindness, amblyopia, poor vision, or squint in the child.

I have been smoking from many years. Is it too late to prevent vision loss?

If you are a smoker – occasional or habitual; and are having any eye-related problems please consult an eye specialist at the earliest and QUIT SMOKING. Professional medical help is always available and it’s never too late to quit smoking. If you have tried quitting earlier and been unsuccessful, seek professional help and experience a brighter, smoke-free future.

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