Link between age related macular degeneration and smoking is highlighted

The harsh fact is that smokers are up four times more likely to develop age related macular degeneration than non-smokers.

Everyone knows that smoking is bad for their overall health, but do you know how it can affect your vision? As part of No Smoking day in March, the College of Optometrists highlighted the link between smoking and a range of eye health problems, including age related macular degeneration and cataracts.

Tobacco smoke is composed of as many as 4,000 active compounds, most of which are toxic and potentially damaging to the eyes. Research has shown that smokers are up to four times more likely than non-smokers to develop age related macular degeneration – the leading cause of blindness in the western world and tend to develop it earlier than non-smokers.

Smoking can also impede the protective effects of antioxidants and reduce macular pigment density which is vital for good sight and smokers are at greater risk of developing cataracts – where the clear lens inside your eye becomes cloudy or misty and can only be treated with surgery. It is also a factor associated with an increased risk of contact lens-related corneal ulcers, a painful and serious eye infection.

There is also a significant association between smoking and increased risk of retinal vein occlusions which causes reduced vision, and recent research showed that smokers are more likely to develop uveitis compared to non-smokers.

Daniel Hardiman-McCartney, Clinical Adviser for the College of Optometrists, explains; “The health benefits of smoking cessation are well documented, including reducing damage to lungs and decreasing the risks of cancer but few people know of the link between smoking and blindness. We all know that smoking has a detrimental effect on health, but it’s important to highlight the lesser known effect that it can have on eyesight, one of people’s most valued senses. Smoking is linked with an increased risk of blindness, but there is some good news. If you stop smoking the risk of losing your sight diminishes over time, so the sooner you stop, the better for your vision. I would urge any smokers who are worried about the effect it may be having on their eyes to talk to their optometrist.”

However, there is some positive and encouraging news; studies have found that people who stopped smoking 20 years ago have a similar risk of developing age related macular degeneration to non-smokers.