Clearing the Air: How Smoking Affects Your Eyes

smoking affects your eyesight

It is no secret that smoking is harmful to your health and has long been known to cause heart disease and lung cancer; however, many people don’t realize that Smoking can lead to vision loss. In fact, studies show Smoking increases the risk of Age-related Macular Degeneration, Cataracts, Glaucoma, Diabetic Retinopathy, and Dry Eye Syndrome.

Smoking affects your eyesight and is just as harmful to your body. If you smoke: You are twice as likely to develop AMD compared to those who do not smoke. You are two to three times more likely to develop Cataracts compared to those who do not smoke. If you smoke, you can develop severe eye conditions that can cause vision loss or blindness.

Two of the greatest threats to your eyesight when smoking are:

  • Macular Degeneration
  • Catarata

Macular Degeneration

Also called Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), is an eye disease that affects central vision. Central vision is necessary for seeing objects clearly and for common tasks such as reading, recognizing faces, and driving. There are two forms of AMD: dry AMD and wet AMD. Macular degeneration always begins in the dry form and sometimes progresses to the more advanced wet form, where vision loss can be remarkably rapid if untreated.

You may think your eyes are fine, but getting a complete eye exam is the only way to know. AMD often has no early symptoms, so an eye exam is the best way to spot this eye disease early. When testing for AMD an eye specialist will place special drops in your eyes to widen your pupils. This offers a better view of the back of your eye, where a thin layer of tissue (the retina) changes light into signals that go to the brain. The macula is a small part of the retina for sharp, central vision.

When symptoms of AMD do occur, they can include:

  • Blurred vision or a blurry spot in your central vision
  • The need for more light to read or do other tasks
  • Straight lines that look wavy
  • Trouble recognizing faces

Eye injections are often the preferred treatment for wet AMD. Your doctor can inject a drug to stop the growth of these blood vessels and stop further damage to your eyes. You may need regular injections to save your vision. One way to reduce the risk of developing AMD is by NOT Smoking. Smokers are three to four times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers. Non-smokers living with smokers almost double their risk of developing AMD. AMD begins as a loss of central vision, which makes it difficult to read and see fine details. Over time, vision loss increases significantly. Of the two types of AMD, “dry” and “wet,” dry AMD is the most common. In dry AMD, fatty deposits form under the light-sensing cells in the back of the eye (retina). Vision loss in dry AMD usually gets worse slowly. In wet AMD, tiny blood vessels under the retina leak or break open, changing vision and causing scar tissue to form. Wet AMD is less common but more quickly harmful to vision.


A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s naturally clear lens. It usually gets worse as we get older. Most Cataracts are related to aging. Cataracts are prevalent in older people. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery. Cataracts cause blurry vision that worsens over time. Without surgery, Cataracts can lead to profound vision loss. The best way to protect your sight from damage linked to Smoking is to quit or never start smoking. Heavy smokers (15 cigarettes/day or more) have up to three times the risk of Cataracts as non-smokers. It has been reported that there is a threefold increase in the amount of blood cadmium and a 33% reduction in the activity of SOD (superoxide dismutase) among tobacco users making the lens susceptible to Cataracts. The accumulation of cadmium in the blood and the decrease of SOD might affect the lens and be responsible for the early onset of Cataracts among tobacco users.
That’s not where it ends; Smoking can also raise the risk of various other health issues, including:


There is a strong link between Smoking and high blood pressure, Cataracts, and diabetes, all of which are risk factors for Glaucoma. Glaucoma causes a gradual breakdown of the cells that make up the nerve in your eye that sends visual information to your brain (optic nerve). As the nerve cells die, vision is slowly lost, usually beginning with side vision. The loss of vision is often not noticeable until a large amount of nerve damage occurs. For this reason, as many as half of all people with Glaucoma may be unaware that they have it.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Smoking can increase your chances of getting diabetes. It can also make managing diabetes more difficult for those who already have it. Complications of diabetes made worse by Smoking include retinopathy, heart disease, stroke, vascular disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, foot problems, and many others.
Diabetic Retinopathy affects the tiny blood vessels of the retina in the eye. Retinal blood vessels can break down, leak, or become blocked, which can affect vision over time. In some people with Diabetic Retinopathy, serious damage to the eye can occur when new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina.

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry Eye Syndrome is more than twice as likely to impact smokers as non-smokers. It’s an eye disease that appears as damaged blood vessels—leading to eye irritation, itchy and scratchy eyes, and a burning sensation in the eyes. This syndrome can lead to diminished meibomian gland function and eventually dying off the glands, which, once lost, cannot be restored. Treatment can be costly, and more advanced treatments, such as LipiFlow® Thermal Pulsation System, may not be available in all areas. While this is an excellent treatment that, fortunately, is offered at Medical Eye Center, it’s not very common at all eye care practices.

How Can You Prevent Vision Loss Related to Smoking?

If you smoke, stop. Quitting may lower your risk for both AMD and Cataracts. AMD tends to get worse over time. Quitting Smoking is something within your control that may help save your sight. Other healthy habits also help protect your eyes from these visual impairments.

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in green, leafy vegetables and fish.
  • Wear sunglasses and a hat with a brim to protect your eyes from sunlight.
  • Control blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Visit your eye care professional regularly.

Most importantly, Don’t go at it alone! Talk to your doctor about creating a personalized quit plan. They can prescribe nicotine replacement therapy or other medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and increase your chances of quitting for good.



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