Smoking and Eye Disease
Tobacco smoking is directly linked to many adverse health effects,
including high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. Smoking
is also linked to eye disease.
How does smoking affect the eyes?
People who smoke cigarettes are at increased risk for developing
cataracts, a clouding of the naturally clear lens
of the eye. Cataracts cause a variety of vision problems, including
blurry distance vision, sensitivity to glare, a loss of contrast
sensitivity, and difficulty seeing colors. When eyeglasses or magnifiers
are no longer helpful for someone with cataracts, or when cataracts
develop in both eyes, surgery is the only option.
Tobacco smoking is also one of the preventable risk factors for
age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Studies
have shown that current smokers and ex-smokers are more likely to
develop AMD than people who have never smoked. AMD has two forms:
dry (called atrophic) AMD and wet (called exudative) AMD. In dry
AMD, your retina gradually thins. There is no proven cure for this
type of degenerative disease. In wet AMD, new blood vessels grow
in the retina, leaking blood or fluid and damaging the macula, the
part of the retina responsible for your central vision. Permanent
vision loss may occur with both types of AMD, so an attempt at prevention
is of utmost importance.
Some studies suggest that in people with high blood sugar levels,
smoking may be linked to diabetic retinopathy,
or damage to the blood vessels in the retina. The optic nerve is
also susceptible to damage from smoking. People with poor diets
who smoke heavily and drink excessive amounts of alcohol run the
risk of developing optic nerve–related vision loss
(called tobacco–alcohol amblyopia). Certain optic
nerve problems, like Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy,
can run in families. People with this condition who smoke have increased
risk of vision loss. Some patients with thyroid disease (called
Graves’ disease) may also have eye involvement; smoking may
cause their eyes to become worse, and vision loss is also possible.
People who do not produce enough tears to keep their eyes comfortably
lubricated have a condition called dry eye. For
these people, smoking is a significant irritant, worsening the symptoms
of scratchiness, stinging or burning of the eyes, and excess tearing
How does smoking affect fetal and infant eye health?
Studies have also shown a strong association between smoking during
pregnancy and the risk of invasive meningitis during
early childhood. The risk of bacterial meningitis
is five times higher among children whose mothers smoked during
pregnancy. In addition to other severe health problems, childhood
meningitis can cause inflammation of the cornea and pink eye. Smoking
during pregnancy is also associated with low birth weight
and premature birth. Finally, oxygen therapy
given to sustain the lives of premature infants can cause retinopathy
of prematurity, causing permanent vision loss or blindness
in the infant.
There are resources to help you quit smoking.
There are numerous community organizations committed to helping
people quit smoking. The American Cancer Society (ACS) offers smoking
cessation classes across the United States. Contact ACS at 800.ACS.2345
or online at www.cancer.org
to find the chapter near you.
Other Ocular Conditions
Allergies and the Eyes
Complete Eye Examinations
Eye Care Facts and Myths
First Aid for Eye Injuries
How To Instill Eye Drops
Intraocular Foreign Bodies and Sharp Trauma
Living With Vision Loss in One Eye
Preventing Eye Injuries
Sports Eye Injuries
Smoking and Eye Disease