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Smoking And Eye Damage

Smoking Eye Damage

Smoking Eye Damage

New research into the public’s attitude towards eye health from the College of Optometrists reveals that a worrying 56 per cent of smokers are unaware that smoking has links to eye disease which could take their sight.

Eye health organizations including the College of Optometrists are concerned about the lack of knowledge about the link between smoking and sight loss. Support amongst the optometry profession is building for an extension of the ‘Smoking Kills’ labels introduced on cigarette packaging to include similar warnings linking smoking to eye disease and blindness.

There are many components in cigarette smoke that are toxic — nicotine, carbon monoxide, tar — they alter the nutrients that need to reach the eye; they upset the eye chemistry. Nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke are thought to be important causes of arteries losing their elasticity. This means that arteries respond less well to fluctuations in pressure and are more likely to rupture. An even bigger problem is the damage to blood vessels from smoking. The vessels behind the eye can be compromised, which cuts off the flow of oxygen to the eye.

The chemicals in cigarette smoke (around 4000 of them) get into the bloodstream of smokers and may induce the damage to theeye.

Although smoking is associated with several eye diseases, including nuclear cataract and thyroid eye disease, the most common cause of smoking related blindness is age related macular degeneration, which results in severe irreversible loss of central vision.

How does smoking damage the eyes?

When you inhale cigarette smoke thousands of chemicals get into your bloodstream and can travel throughout your body. These chemicals cause damage to the macula (the most sensitive part of the retina, at the back of your eye). Tiny blood vessels can burst through the macula, leading to irreversible damage, or alternatively, the cells of the macula slowly die. Both ultimately lead to loss of vision.

Can this damage be reversed?

No. Laser treatment can sometimes kill the new blood vessels before they hit the macula. However, most people are not able to be helped this way because the blood vessel has already involved the very centre of the macula, and even after treatment, the condition recurs in half the cases and in almost all those who continue to smoke. A new treatment, photodynamic therapy (PDT) may be able to help some to reduce the severity of vision loss, but the majority of people with macular degeneration will still not be able to be treated.

If I quit smoking will my eyes recover?

Your risk of macular degeneration will be reduced if you quit smoking, however existing damage to the eyes cannot be repaired, particularly once vision is affected.

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