02 August 2010

Smoking can make you blind

Smoking is a total onslaught on the body. On the precious sense of sight too.

Smoking is a total onslaught on the body. And that means on our precious sense of sight too.

“I cannot say this any more plainly,” says Claudette Medefindt, Director for Science of the patient advocacy group Retina South Africa. “Smoking causes AMD (age-related macular degeneration), a leading cause of blindness. Sight is the sense that nine out of 10 people most fear losing. If we are to save eyesight, we must alert South Africans to the dangers of smoking.”

According to the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, the scientific evidence for the link between smoking and blindness is now as strong as the evidence for the link between smoking and lung disease.

'Butt out now!'
It is time that smokers understood that they at least double their risk of going blind through AMD. In fact, their risk may be eight times higher than that of a non-smoker if they also have a genetic predisposition.

“Please join us in saying ‘but out now!’” says Medefindt, a board member of AMD Alliance International. “It’s in the best interests of your eyes!” AMD has been elevated by the World Health Organisation to the third largest cause of blindness globally and the largest cause of blindness in the developed world.

Retina South Africa raises funds to help in the international quest to find treatments for retinal conditions such as Macular Degeneration (MD), Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and allied retinal conditions. These degenerative disorders affect hundreds of thousands of South Africans and millions worldwide.

RP is usually first diagnosed in young teenagers with early symptoms being poor night vision and loss of side (peripheral) vision. Tunnel vision and functional blindness follow.

Retinal conditions untreatable
Macular degeneration can occur in the elderly or in the very young. In both cases, precious central vision is lost, making reading, writing and the recognition of faces impossible.

While new pharmaceutical interventions by the major drug companies have been developed to treat the more aggressive wet form of AMD, the more common dry form and the other retinal conditions remain untreatable.

Progress in stem cell research and artificial retinas may offer hope to many in the future. Unfortunately, it will be many years before these are commercially available. Gene therapy remains a viable option. The first-ever human gene therapy for retinal blindness begins in America in the next few weeks.

This LCA trial will be closely watched by patients and researchers alike. The results may be almost biblical - that of restoring sight to the blind.

(- Health24, updated August 2010)

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