Binetter Eye Centre

How smoking can affect your eye health


How smoking can affect your eye health

By now, we all know the damage that smoking can do to our lungs and overall health.

But have you thought about the damage it could be doing to your eyes? Most people are surprised to learn that smoking can cause permanent and often irreversible damage to your eye health and can even lead to blindness.

How does smoking affect your eye health?

When you smoke, thousands of different chemicals enter your bloodstream and travel throughout your body. The eyes need a constant supply of blood to function correctly, and smoking can constrict the blood vessels which can cut off the supply of blood to the eye. This, as a result, can also lead to blood vessel damage which can result in new blood vessel growth and leakage causing scarring to the retina.

Even just the smoke itself can damage your eyes, as smoke is an irritant and can aggravate dry eyes, resulting in sore, itchy, burning eyes.

Can smoking cause cataracts?

Cataracts cause blurry and clouded vision, loss of contrast in your vision and will increase sensitivity to bright light and glare. Smoking can double your chance of developing cataracts and increases the risk of developing cataracts at an early age (Source: 1).

Luckily, cataracts can be helped with cataract surgery but quitting or abstaining from smoking will reduce your risks of getting them in the first place – prevention is always better than treatment!

Can smoking actually cause blindness?

One of the more serious ways that smoking can affect your eyes is macular degeneration which is the leading cause of blindness in Australia. Smoking will quadruple your chances of developing age-related macular degeneration compared to non-smokers. (Source: 2, 3)

Macular degeneration can be caused by the constriction of blood vessels that feed this section of the eye, causing damage to the macula (the part of the retina at the back of the eye that we use when we look directly at someone or when reading).

There are two main ways that macular degeneration can occur, the first is rarer, where important parts of the macular actually die, but the more common way is when these parts of the macula to weaken allowing abnormal blood vessels to break through these weak points and cause bleeding. This type of damage often results in scarring of the macula and causes severe loss of the central area of vision. Often people who suffer this type of macular damage have distorted vision to start with, but gradually a dark patch develops in the centre of their vision.

Can laser treatment fix the damage?

Smoking causes both of these types of macular degeneration and unfortunately, the resulting blindness is irreversible.

If the damage is caught early enough, laser vision surgery can be stopped in its tracks in the early stages and can prevent further damage from happening, but unfortunately, if the macular degeneration has progressed past a certain stage, there is nothing that can help regain the patient’s vision.

Of course, the best thing that you can do if you feel you are at risk of any of the above is to quit smoking, but if you have concerns over your eye health, book an appointment today to see how we can help.

Learn more on laser eye surgery


In-text references:

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: what it means to you. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2004.
  2. Smith W, Assink J, Klein R, Mitchell P, Klaver CC, Klein BE, Hofman A, Jensen S, Wang JJ, de Jong PT. Risk factors for age-related macular degeneration: pooled findings from three continents. Ophthalmology. 2001 Apr; 108(4):697-704. [abstract] 6/6/06)
  3. Mitchell P, Chapman S, Smith W. Smoking is a major cause of blindness. MJA 1999; 171: 173-174. 6/6/06)

This article is not a substitute for a consultation with your surgeon. Before choosing to proceed with laser eye surgery your surgeon will have a detailed discussion with you about the right procedure and about the potential complications.