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Eye Health

See Smoke? Think Fire! Dangerous Eye Health and Smoking Connections

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Smoking tobacco is undoubtedly the largest and most preventable cause of premature death and disease. In fact, smoking harms virtually every organ in the human body, including the eyes. However, the connection between eye health and smoking isn’t necessarily a conversation eye practitioners are having with their patients. But it should be! 

The adverse effects of smoking can wreak havoc on the human eye, causing sight-threatening diseases and complications. Simply put, if you see or smell smoke, there could be a fire going on with your patients’ eye health. Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways smoking could be harming an individual’s eye health. 

Smoking Increases the Likelihood of Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

AMD starts out as a loss of central vision and the reduction of the individual’s ability to read and see fine details. However, the vision loss can and will significantly increase. Out of the two different types of AMD —dry AMD and wet AMD — the dry condition is more common. With dry AMD, fatty deposits start forming underneath the light-sensing cells in the retina. An individual suffering dry AMD will suffer progressive vision loss. 

While wet AMD is less common, this condition can progress more quickly and be more harmful to an individual’s vision. With wet AMD, blood vessels underneath the retina will break open or leak, which alters the vision and results in the formation of scar tissue. 

Research suggests smokers are nearly three times more like likely to develop AMD in comparison to someone who has never smoked. In addition, smokers who are female and over 80 are a stunning 5.5 times more likely to develop the condition than a non-smoker of the same age. It’s vital to encourage your patients to stop smoking at any age. Even if they are older, quitting smoking can substantially reduce their chances of developing AMD and other conditions.  

Heavy Smokers Are Three Times More Likely to Develop Cataracts

Cataracts tend to worsen as patients age. It's estimated that more than 50% of Americans will have a cataract or will have previously had surgery by the age of 80. However, heavy smokers have a higher likelihood of developing cataracts in comparison to nonsmokers. In addition, heavy smokers who consume 15 or more cigarettes a day are two to three times as likely to develop cataracts, according to the National Eye Institute

Diabetic Retinopathy & Smoking 

Today, over 5 million Americans who are 40 and older suffer from diabetic retinopathy due to Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects this number to balloon to around 16 million by the year 2050. In fact, the National Eye Institute suggests diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in adults aged between 25 and 74

Smoking cigarettes can double an individual’s likelihood of developing diabetes. If the individual already has diabetes, smoking can make managing the condition much more difficult. Diabetic complications made worse from smoking tobacco include retinopathy, stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, vascular disease, foot problems, nerve damage, and several other conditions. 

The Relationship Between Dry Eyes & Smoking

As the name suggests, patients who suffer from Dry Eye Syndrome do not have sufficient tears on the surface of the eye. Tobacco smoke is a known, documented irritant of the eye and will worsen dry eye symptoms. 

It can irritate or even cause dry eyes if an individual is exposed to second-hand smoke. People who wear contact lenses can be especially prone to develop smoke-induced dry eye. In fact, smokers are twice as likely to be affected by Dry Eye Syndrome as someone who doesn’t smoke. 

Uveitis, Eye Health and Smoking 

Uveitis is a very serious disease and causes approximately 30,000 new cases of blindness every year in the United States. It can affect anyone at any age and can cause other complications such as retinal detachment, glaucoma, and cataracts. 

Research shows that smokers are more prone to have uveitis than nonsmokers. Many researchers theorize smoking is directly linked to uveitis development. One study discovered smoking tobacco caused 2.2 times greater than normal risk of developing the condition. 

Smoking and a Child’s Eye Health

If your patient smokes, it doesn’t just affect their individual selves. Second hand smoke can be just as dangerous. However, pregnant women who smoke are transmitting hazardous toxins into their placenta – where it can cause serious harm to the unborn baby. Specifically, when pregnant women smoke, they increase the likelihood of developing several different fetal and infant eye disorders as well as a range of other health problems. 

For instance, women who smoke while pregnant are increasing the likelihood their child will develop strabismus, which is crossed eyes. On the other hand, smoking while pregnant can also result in the optic nerve not developing completely, which is the leading cause of childhood blindness. Additionally, pregnant women who smoke have higher likelihood of premature labor; and all premature babies are at a higher risk of eye complications than babies carried to full term.

Contact Keeler for the Best Ophthalmic Equipment

Tobacco smoke is made up of as many as 4,000 toxic compounds that can be extremely hazardous to an individual’s eyes. It should come as no surprise the National Library on Medicine reports the list of ophthalmic disorders associated with smoking continues to grow. Fortunately, it’s never too late for you to encourage your patients to stop. Quitting at any age can substantially reduce an individual’s likelihood of developing sight-threatening conditions. 

Contact Keeler today for the best diagnostic equipment.

About the Author Eugene VanArsdale

Eugene is the Director of Marketing Communications at Keeler Instruments. He has been with Keeler since 1982 and is co-holder of two patents for the company. Eugene has a true passion for the eye care industry and has dedicated himself to understanding the ins and outs of the optometric and ophthalmic equipment market.