The fact that smoking comes with many health dangers doesn’t come as fresh news anymore. After all, tobacco use has long been identified to be bad for the body. It harms various organs, including the heart, lungs, and even reproductive organs. Various health risks have also been connected to habitual smoking, including stroke and lung cancer.
Yet, aside from these commonly known health risks, there are other health conditions linked to smoking that are not as popular as the others. The eyes, in particular, can be as vulnerable as all the other organs in the event of continuous tobacco use. From age-related macular degeneration (AMD) to cataracts, here are some eye-related diseases that are linked to heavy smoking. Read on.
Eye Health Risks Linked to Smoking
- Dry Eyes
If you’re a cigarette smoker, you might have experienced the condition called “dry eyes.” It is characterized by a gritty sensation in the eyes, often accompanied by itchiness and blurred vision. It is somewhat similar to the feeling of having a grain of sand stuck in the eye.
Generally, dry eyes are caused by various factors. These include old age, side effects of medications, and environmental conditions, such as exposure to smoke and other harsh elements. Since tobacco smoke is a known eye irritant, smokers are naturally more at risk of experiencing dry eyes.
Nicotine, in particular, is known to trigger increased inflammation throughout the body. As to the eyes, inflammation may occur on the ocular surface and the lipid layer of the tear film. This inflammation, in turn, could lead to tear instability, causing dry eyes.
To date, researchers continue to investigate the effects of cigarette smoking on the ocular surface and tear film of the eyes.
Cataracts refer to the clouding of the lens, the transparent, curved disk located behind the iris. Generally, the lens is the one responsible for transmitting the light that enters the eye from the cornea towards the retina. To do that, the lens changes its shape with the help of ciliary muscles, bends the light, and focuses it to the retina for image processing.
Normally, the lens should be clear and transparent. However, as we age, the lens may become clouded, resulting in cataracts. This leads to a decrease in the transmission of light as well as in the focusing ability of the eyes. At worst, cataracts may even lead to blindness.
In some recently published studies, smoking has been determined to increase the risks of developing cataracts. Since tobacco smoke contains many chemicals, long exposure to these toxic materials can damage the eyes. Specifically, several heavy metals found in tobacco smoke may accumulate in the lens and cause toxicity. Smoking-associated oxidative stress may also injure the lens. Over time, all these factors may contribute to cataract development.
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is among the most common eye-related conditions troubling older adults. Specifically, it is a type of eye disease that affects the central area of the retina, called the macula. This macula is the one responsible for our central and color vision. Hence, any damage to the said area can affect our ability to see what’s in front of us.
People with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) experiences blurred to decreased central vision. Over time, AMD may get worse and, in some cases, may even lead to permanent vision loss. There are two main types of AMD, called the dry form and the wet form. The former is the more common type, while the latter is uncommon but is more threatening. Dry AMD patients may notice blind spots that slowly progress over time. Meanwhile, wet AMD patients lose their vision faster.
To date, while research about the real cause of AMD remains lacking, many factors have been identified that may contribute to and increase the risk of macular degeneration. Among these risk factors include old age, family history, and smoking. The toxic substances found in cigarette smoke, in particular, which cause vascular inflammation and oxidative damage, may negatively affect the retina and increase the risk of macular degeneration.
Glaucoma is another type of eye disease that has been linked to smoking. Similar to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma is an eye condition that commonly affects people of old age. However, while the former refers to an injury in the macula of the retina, glaucoma covers damages in the optic nerve.
Since the optic nerve is the one responsible for transmitting visual signals from the eyes towards the brain, damage to the same will naturally affect vision performance. In the case of people with glaucoma, some may experience blurred vision, eye pain, blind spots, or even tunnel vision, depending on the type of glaucoma they have. The symptoms get worse over time and may even lead to blindness.
The exact cause of glaucoma remains unknown to date. However, doctors point to different factors that may contribute to the development of glaucoma. These include high eye pressure, diabetes, and a family history of glaucoma. Some studies also suggest that heavy smokers are more at risk of developing glaucoma.
How to protect your eyes from these conditions?
While some of these conditions mentioned bring only minor inconveniences, some could also lead to permanent blindness. The best way to protect yourself from these eye diseases is to quit smoking and improve your lifestyle. Regular checkup with your doctor is also a must. Some serious eye conditions, such as glaucoma, may even develop with little to no symptoms at all. A visit to a medical expert will help detect these diseases early on.
Visit us today!
Are you a smoker or know someone who smokes heavily? Arizona Retinal Specialists provide professional eye exams. You may want to schedule an appointment with us online or call 623-474-3937 today.