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Smoking and Eye Illness

11 August 2015


In recent years, as our understanding of the human body and disease has increased, smoking has turned from an acceptable social habit to one that most try to avoid due to its addictive and harmful nature.

With our greater understanding of its effects and what it can do to our bodies, we have linked a lot of disease and illnesses to smoking and identified that it definitely puts those that partake at a greater risk of developing health problems. What a lot of people don’t realise is that smoking can also effect the health of your eyes. Some conditions that it can be connected to are macular degeneration, dry eye, cataracts and uveitis.

Age related macular degeneration is one of the most common causes of blindness in the world. It is formed by the deterioration of the retina which effects central vision (i.e. what is seen in front rather than peripherally). This then creates blind spots, thus impairing vision.

Macular degeneration can cause serious implications to those affected, such as:

  • Hard to see detail on television
  • Hard to recognise faces
  • Not being able to drive due to loss of vision
  • Easier to fall and suffer serious injuries
  • Loss of independence and the possibility they could require assistance

The average age that people usually start to develop symptoms of macular degeneration is around 65 years of age. The second eye begins to deteriorate at a rate of around 12% per year, causing around 60% of people suffering from macular degeneration to be legally blind by the time they turn 70.

Although smoking does not cause macular degeneration, it is a major factor contributing to its early development as smokers are three times more likely to develop the disease. There is currently no medical or surgical cure for age related macular degeneration, however rehabilitation, medical advice and care is available for those affected.  Laser treatments or injections of an antibody to supress macular swelling or bleeding are often helpful as well.

Uveitis, which is the inflammation of the eyes middle layer or ‘uvea’, is another eye disease that has been shown to develop and worsen with the continuation of smoking. Uveitis is a disease that harms the vital structures of the eye including the retina and iris which can form other complications such as retinal detachment and glaucoma. This can then result in complete vision loss. Studies have shown that smokers are 2.2 times more likely to be at risk of developing uveitis and those that develop symptoms can worsen their condition by continuing smoking.

Smoking can also be a direct cause of the development of cataracts. Cataracts are the clouding of the eyes natural lens which then forms inhibited vision. Studies show that those who smoke double their chances of forming cataracts and this risk continues the more the individual smokes.

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RANZCO - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists - The Leaders in Collaborative Eye Care
ASO - Australian Society of Ophthalmologists

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