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The dangerous side effects of smoking are well-known. In addition to evidence linking heart disease, cancer and circulation problems, a tobacco habit can have severe and lasting effects on vision including damage to your eyes.
The potential effects of smoking on your eyes and vision are quite the one-two punch. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the risk of both cataracts and age-related macular degeneration is significantly increased in smokers. Macular degeneration is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States and cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide.
In fact, the New York Department of Health says smokers are three to four times more likely than non-smokers to develop age-related macular degeneration. Those who live with smokers, even if they aren’t smokers themselves, double their risk.
Indirectly, smoking can cause many other eye problems due to the diseases and conditions smokers are more susceptible to develop. For instance, smokers are up to 40 percent more likely to develop diabetes, a leading risk factor for glaucoma which is the leading cause of blindness in this country. Diabetics are also at increased risk for diabetic retinopathy, which causes damage to blood vessels in the eye and can lead to vision loss.
Smoking has also been shown to contribute to high blood pressure, which comes with a host of vision-related risks as well, including retinopathy, fluid buildup under the retina and nerve damage. Add the potential for thyroid disease, uveitis (eye inflammation that leads to cataracts and glaucoma) and birth defects like lazy eye, and you can see that smoking’s unseen consequences are even dire.
The effects of a cloud of smoke hanging around in front of your face are no surprise at all. Anyone who’s been around a campfire knows that wood smoke can quickly cause eye irritation and dryness. It’s no different for smokers who frequently suffer from dry eyes. It might seem like nothing more than an annoyance to have irritated, itchy, burning, or sensitive eyes, but dry eyes can — in severe cases — cause damage to the cornea (the eye’s clear covering) or cause it to become infected, leading to serious vision issues.
Additionally, cigarette smoke is a far cry from the campfire smoke blowing your way when the wind changes. Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including 69 which are known to cause cancer. Some of these chemicals are acetone, butane, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, lead, tar and nicotine, which is also used as an insecticide.
The good news is that more people than ever are kicking the habit — smoking among adults is at an all-time low with less than 20 percent of the population smoking. But some of that drop could be attributed to the growing popularity of electronic cigarettes, which have recently beenfound to have some nasty chemicals themselves.
If you are looking for another reason to quit smoking, keeping your eyes healthy is pretty solid motivation and there’s plenty of help availableto make it happen.