Eye Health

Updated 14 March 2018

How smoking can cause blindness

Smoking increases your chances of becoming blind due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by up to four times.

Smoking increases your chances of becoming blind due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by up to four times. AMD is an irreversible, progressive eye condition in which the macula (the central part of the retina) is damaged, resulting in lost central vision, especially in people over age 60. It can lead to blindness.

The causes of macular degeneration are not completely understood, but smoking is believed to be the main preventable risk factor. Evidence indicates that more than a quarter of all cases of AMD are linked to current or past exposure to smoking.

AMD is not curable, but the progress of the condition can be slowed in some people if it is treated promptly. Smoking is the most commonly identified factor aggravating the condition, so treatment includes not smoking and avoiding cigarette smoke. Giving up smoking could help prevent or slow the development of the disease, and can also improve the long-term response to treatments such as laser therapy.

Recent research suggests that smokers are 60% more likely to suffer from age-related cataracts. This applies particularly to the form of cataract that develops on the inner surface of the lens. Cataracts of this type (posterior subcapsular cataracts) affect smokers two to three times more than non-smokers.

Inflammation of the eyes
The chemicals in tobacco smoke can cause inflammation of the conjunctiva (the thin membrane covering the eye), resulting in bloodshot, irritated eyes. This is usually temporary, and is relieved as soon as you leave the smokey environment.

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Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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