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Smoking: The Devastating Effect on One’s Eyes

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Smoking cessation, or avoiding smoking, is one of the best life investments one can make for not only the long-term health of your entire body, but your eye health as well.
Smoking has been implicated in increasing your risks of cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, vascular disease and severe thyroid disease. The more a person smokes the higher their risk of developing complications.
Lets take a look at how smoking affects each of these diseases individually:
Macular Degeneration
People who currently smoke increase their risks of developing macular degeneration by four times! Furthermore, people who have smoked in their past have a three times greater risk of developing severe macular degeneration.
Age-Related Macular degeneration (ARMD) is a disease of the retina that affects your central vision. The mild form of this disease can distort objects and faces, or make things like reading very difficult. As the disease advances, the distortion worsens and can eventually cause a ‘dark spot’ in one’s central vision. Swelling under the macula and secondary scarring to the retinal tissues causes this ‘dark spot’. This disease can be quite debilitating and can eventually cause someone to go blind.
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for macular degeneration. Treatment is only beneficial if someone progresses to the ‘wet’ form of macular degeneration, where they then need to make regular trips to the hospital for ocular injections to keep what little vision they have.
Smoking increases free radicals in the body and reduces the supply of antioxidants to the eye. This causes cataract development in the intraocular lens resulting the patient’s vision becoming cloudy. If the cloudiness becomes severe enough, the patient will need to be referred for surgery where they take out the cataract and replace one’s old lens with an artificial lens.
Vascular Disease
Atherosclerosis is a complication associated with smoking. Atherosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries in the body. When the arteries become hardened and plaques develop in them, one is at a greater risk of a stroke in the eye, or even the brain due to lack of oxygen supply. When a stroke has occurred in the eye, depending on where the artery has become blocked, one has the potential to become completely blind in that eye within minutes if not treated ASAP. Hardened arteries can also cause an occlusion of one of the veins of the retina; this results in bleeding in the back of the eye and possible decreased vision as well.
Thyroid Eye Disease
People with thyroid disease are at a much higher risk of developing Graves Disease if they are a smoker. Graves disease is the ocular complication of thyroid disease. It results in a thickening of the muscles and soft tissue around the eye; this results in the protrusion of the eyes out of the eye socket giving one the “bulging eyes” appearance.
Smoking is a bad habit and a tough thing to quit. Even when you are aware of the complications of this habit, it may still be tough to quit. Here are some resources below that can help you reach your goal.
Smokers’ Helpline
It’s a FREE, confidential service (English & French) that provides personalized support, advice and information about quitting smoking from a trained Quit Coach. Proven practices are used to help you through the process of quitting. And, once you’ve quit, they are there to help with your questions and concerns.
Help is available by phone, online, or text message. Interpreter services in over 100 languages are available by phone.
Access Smokers’ Helpline Online 24 hours/day, 7 days per week or call 1-877-513-5333 Monday-Thursday 8am to 9pm, Friday 8am to 6pm and Saturday-Sunday 9am to 5pm.

Written by
Dr. Wes McCann

Dr. McCann earned his two Bachelor of Science degrees (both with honours) at Western University in London, Ontario, before going on to earn his Bachelor of Vision Science, accelerated MBA, and Doctor of Optometry degrees at the Nova Southeastern University (NSU) of Optometry in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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Dr. Wes McCann
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