Smoking and Sight Loss

The act of smoking is normally associated with a trip to the doctor’s and the subsequent discovery of cancerous cells in and around the lung region.


However, amongst the myriad of ailments smoking can cause lies vision loss.


Toxins inhaled into the body through smoking can help contribute to occurrences of vasoconstriction, reduced oxygen availability, and chronic inflammation. In addition, smoking increases the number of oxidative radicals in the body and lowers the level of antioxidants. This results in a ramp up of the body’s aging process.


However, due to the sheer amount of harmful chemicals there are in tobacco, harm is not limited to just internal. Smoke from tobacco contain ash particles and these can physically come in contact with the eye, causing harm.


This means that ocular distress from smoking is not just limited to those that actively take part in it. Bystanders within the smoker’s area of influence may also be subject to some of the harmful effects.


Here are some of the most common eye conditions associated with smoking:



Smokers will inhale heavy metals, including cadmium, iron, lead, and copper. These can accumulate in the lens of the eyes and cause damage.  Oxidative radicals can also cause changes to the lens structure and composition, contributing to the formation of cataracts, which is a clouding of the lens in the eye.


Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

AMD is one of the leading causes of sight loss in the UK and smoking is one of the factors why. Those that smoke can be at increased risk due to the numerous toxins present. Tar from cigarettes can also help the formations of drusens, which are fatty deposits in the retina.

Those who already have signs of AMD may find that the condition progresses faster if they are smokers.


Graves’ Ophthalmopathy 

Graves’ ophthalmology, also known as thyroid eye disease (TED), occurs mostly amongst individuals with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease that impacts the thyroid.


Smoking can affect the thyroid gland and prevent the uptake of iodine as well as negatively impact the sympathetic nervous system which can then affect thyroid function. According to studies, smokers with Graves’ disease are at least twice as like to develop TED, with the probability increasing up to eight times for those that heavily engage in smoking.


Due to treatment methods often involving consumption of iodine, smoking can also reduce the efficacy of therapy, making it even harder to recover from.


Dry Eyes

Dry eye is most commonly caused by one or more glands in the lids reducing in function. This can be caused by blockages in those glands which causes more friction on the front surface of the eye. In some cases, the eyes will water profusely because the eye believes it is dry so it secretes more fluid. However, because there are three layers to the tears, if one is not functioning properly then the tear may not be able to relieve the dryness.


Although not as serious as the other conditions listed, dry eyes can be made worse due to smokers experiencing reduced tear production. If left untreated, this can lead to a variety of complications with the individual’s cornea.

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