Smoking causes harm to every organ in the body, including the eyes.
We usually think of lung cancer first when it comes to the harms of smoking, and maybe we think of oral health issues next, but even the parts of the body that don't come into direct contact with the smoke are in danger. Studies show that smokers are at a significantly higher risk of developing sight-threatening eye conditions, including cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
The Link Between Smoking and Cataracts
Smokers are twice as likely to develop cataracts, the world's leading cause of blindness. The early symptoms include blurred or double vision, faded colors, light sensitivity, and poor night vision. Fortunately, cataracts are reversible through an incredibly common and safe surgery, so any vision loss due to them could be temporary. The same cannot be said of other sight-threatening conditions.
Smoking and Diabetic Eye Disease
A number of eye problems are linked to diabetes. Because smoking increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 40%, it also makes people more vulnerable to related eye conditions. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when weakened blood vessels at the back of the eye start leaking blood into the field of vision and the retina can't get enough oxygen. The problem typically gets worse over time, especially if the diabetes isn't well controlled.
Smoking and AMD
We get our sharpest, most detailed vision from the macula portion of the retina. With AMD, the macula deteriorates over time, resulting in permanent blindness. A smoker is three times more likely to get AMD, and they're also more likely to get it earlier in life.
Smoking Is Also Bad for Non-Smokers
The worst effects of smoking will impact smokers themselves, but secondhand smoke is a real problem for the people around them. These non-smokers are at greater risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke by being near smoking so often, and it can cause asthma attacks, bronchitis, ear infections, pneumonia in children and even increase the risk of SIDS.
Vaping: Not the Safe Alternative It's Pitched As
Vaping may be advertised as a healthier alternative to smoking by the companies selling it, but it's not true. Many of the chemicals in e-cigarette fluid are connected to an increased risk of the same sight-threatening conditions we've discussed here. In the end, there is no safe or healthy way to consume tobacco.
Break the Habit and Put Your Eye Health First
Some risk factors that contribute to eye disease can't be avoided, such as family history or age, but quitting (or never starting) smoking has an incredibly positive effect. Even someone who has smoked heavily for many years can reduce their risk of eye diseases and other health problems linked to smoking by quitting. It's also good for eye health to stay active, eat healthy foods, and schedule regular eye exams. Early detection of eye conditions is critical!