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Does Smoking Affect Your Eyes?

Dr. Jordan Marr

Written By:

Dr. Jordan Marr

Updated: 08 December 2022 •  

By now, it’s common knowledge that smoking has terrible effects on our health. It increases our risk of conditions such as emphysema, lung cancer, and heart problems. But what about our eyes?
 
Sure enough, smoking can also affect your eye health and vision in many ways. Smoking increases your risks of developing serious eye conditions which can cause vision loss and even blindness.
 

Why is cigarette smoke so bad for you?

Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 250 of these are proven to be harmful to the body, and at least 69 of these can cause cancer. Some of the cancer-causing toxins [1] in cigarette smoke include:
 

  • Aromatic aminesBladder cancer and breast cancer
  •  

  • ArsenicBladder cancer and skin cancer
  •  

  • BenzeneLeukemia and other blood disorders
  •  

  • 1,3-ButadieneStomach, blood, and lymphatic system cancers
  •  

  • ChromiumLung cancer, and cancers in the nasal cavity
  •  

  • Ethylene oxideLymphoma and leukemia
  •  

  • FormaldehydeLeukemia, cancers of the sinuses and nasal cavity
  •  

  • Polonium-210Lung cancer
  •  

  • Vinyl chlorideLymphoma, leukemia, and brain and lung cancers

 
Cigarettes also contain nicotine [2]. This addictive substance increases the release of adrenaline and dopamine in your body. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. Dopamine triggers a pleasure response, which causes you to subconsciously associate smoking with happiness.
 
In addition to being very harmful for your overall health, smoking also poses many risks to your eyes.
 

How can smoking affect your vision?

Cigarette smoke contains toxins that damage your health and eyes. These toxins can also cause lesions in the brain [3] which can prevent the brain from processing visual stimuli.
 
As well as directly causing damage to your vision, smoking drastically increases your risks of developing eye conditions and diseases. Many studies have found that smokers are at much greater risks of conditions such as cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and glaucoma. These conditions can cause vision loss, which is irreversible in some cases.
 

What parts of the eye does smoking affect?

Smoking cigarettes causes damage to the structures in your eyes. Some of these include:
 

  • LensThis part of the eye focuses light onto the back of the eye and is responsible for clear vision and focusing. Smoking causes oxidative damage [4] to the lens, which can lead to conditions such as cataracts.
  •  

  • RetinaThis is the light-sensitive layer at the back of your eye, which contains the photoreceptors responsible for converting light into signals for the brain. Smoking causes damage to the retina and greatly increases risks of ocular diseases [5].
  •  

  • MaculaThe macula is where light focuses in the retina and is essential for having clear central vision. Smoking damages the macula and depletes its levels of lutein [6] (a carotenoid that protects the eye from damage). Lower levels of lutein put you at risk of developing eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
  •  

  • Uveal tract This is a term for the “middle” part of the eye. The uveal tract includes the choroid (blood vessel layer of the eye), the ciliary body (a ring of muscle tissue that helps the lens function), and the iris (colored part of the eye). Smoking irritates and damages [7] the uveal tract and increases risks of conditions such as uveitis, which can cause severe pain and vision loss.

 

What eye conditions can smoking cause?

While smoking does not directly cause eye diseases, it can greatly increase your risk of developing them. Some common conditions that are linked to smoking include:
 

  • CataractsThis is when the lens in your eye becomes cloudy. Cataracts cause blurry vision and make colors appear dull and more yellow. To fix this condition, surgery is required, and your natural lens needs to be replaced with an artificial lens (intraocular lens).
  •  

  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)AMD is an age-related condition where the retina becomes damaged. This causes central vision loss and distorted vision.
  •  

  • Diabetic retinopathy (DR)This condition affects the blood vessels in the retina in people with diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy can cause vision loss and even blindness.
  •  

  • Optic nerve damage Smoking causes damage to the optic nerve (the nerve that connects the eye to the brain). Damage to the optic nerve can lead to blindness.
  •  

  • Glaucoma This is a disease that affects the optic nerve, causing progressive loss of peripheral vision. In severe cases of glaucoma [9], people can become blind. The vision loss caused by glaucoma is irreversible.
  •  

  • Dry eye syndromeExposure to smoke from cigarettes damages the front surface of the eyes. This causes redness, irritation, and a burning sensation. This damage can also increase your risk of eye infections such as keratitis.
  •  

  • Uveitis This an inflammation of the middle layers of your eye (the uvea), and can affect the front (anterior), middle (intermediate), back (posterior), or all (panuveitis) of your eye. Common symptoms of uveitis [11] include eye pain and redness, blurry or cloudy vision, light sensitivity, headaches, and floaters in your vision. Uveitis can become very painful and can cause vision loss if untreated.

 

Is second-hand smoke bad for your eyes?

Sadly, second-hand smoke is just as harmful to your vision and eye health as smoking. Casual smokers and people who are exposed to second-hand smoke also have an increased risk of developing eye diseases.
 
Smoking during pregnancy, or around your child, has been shown to increase their risks of developing eye diseases and vision impairments.
 

Will quitting smoking improve your eye health?

Quitting smoking will prevent further damages to your eyes and vision. While some damage is irreversible, quitting can provide the structures in your eyes with a chance to regenerate and repair. It is never too late to quit smoking.
 
Other ways that you can prevent vision loss include:
 

  • Eat vitamin rich foods, especially green vegetables and vitamins C and E
  • Exercise regularly
  • Manage your blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Have regular comprehensive eye examinations

 

When to see a doctor

It is important to see your optometrist regularly for comprehensive eye examinations. This allows early detection of ocular diseases, often before you begin experiencing symptoms.
 
Smoking puts you at much greater risks of developing these eye diseases. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should see your eye health professional:
 

  • Blurry or clouded vision
  • A blind spot in your vision
  • Difficulty driving or recognising faces
  • Distorted vision (such as straight lines appearing wavy)
  • Dry, red, or irritated eyes
  • Pain in any area of your eye

 
If you experience any sudden changes in your vision, then you should see your optometrist as soon as possible.
 

References

  • “Harms of Cigarette Smoking and Health Benefits of Quitting”, National Cancer Institute.
  •  

  • “Nicotine Dependence”, Mayo Clinic.
  •  

  • “Does Smoking Affect the Eyes?”, Optometrists Network.
  •  

  • “Oxidative damage to the eye lens caused by cigarette smoke and fuel smoke condensates”, Indian Journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics.
  •  

  • “The effect of smoking on macular, choroid, and retina nerve fiber layer thickness”, Turkish Journal of Ophthalmology.
  •  

  • “Smoking and sight loss”, Macular Society.
  •  

  • “Smoking and Eye Disease”, American Academy of Ophthalmology.
  •  

  • “Smoking Can Lead to Vision Loss or Blindness”, New York State Department of Health.
  •  

  • “Smoking and Glaucoma”, Optometrists Network.
  •  

  • “Ocular conditions and dry eye due to traditional and new forms of smoking: a review”, Contact Lens and Anterior Eye Journal.
  •  

  • “Associations between Smoking and Uveitis: Results from the Pacific Ocular Inflammation Study”, Ophthalmology.
  •  

  • “Overview of Smoking and Eyesight”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Jordan Marr

Written by:

Dr. Jordan Marr

Dr Jordan Marr has over 5 years of clinical and academic optometry experience and is a visual science editor for the Clinical and Refractive Optometry journal. He is licensed under the Optometry Board of Australia.
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