“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” is a well-known and well-loved show tune from the Broadway musical “Roberta.” Many famous voices recorded the 1933 classic, including Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, Benny Goodman and even The Platters. Most of us can remember the famous refrain, “when smoke gets in your eyes, your heart’s on fire.” In truth, when cigarette smoke really does get in your eyes, the tears cannot hide: smoke can cause a variety of health problems, from vision loss and blindness.
The statistics are actually quite sobering for smokers. Studies show that cigarettes can increase the risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy and dry eye syndrome. Here are some medical facts about smoking and vision health.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Smoking
Three out of four people who smoke are more likely to develop macular degeneration than nonsmokers according to Amd.org.
Age-related macular degeneration is an eye health condition in which the central vision system is lost over time, including the ability to distinguish fine details. Symptoms of macular degeneration can include:
- Blind spots
- Diminished close-up vision and distance vision.
- Straight lines appear bent. Sometimes objects take on different colors or shapes from what they actually are.
- A condition known as micropisia makes objects appear smaller in one eye than the other. This is due to the swelling in the macula.
Dry Eye Syndrome and Smoking
Smokers are almost twice more likely to suffer from dry eye syndrome than those who do not smoke. This will evoke feelings of itchiness, burning sensations and damaged blood vessels. The condition is mostly due to the inability to make enough tears. This leads to the nervous system receiving a distress signal that requests more hydration. In order to respond, sometimes tears made of only water – which do not help to coat the eye in a healthy manner – are overproduced. Debris can be washed away, but the eye remains dry, even if you use specialty drops or moisturizing contact lenses like Air Optix Aqua or Acuvue Moist.
Glaucoma and Smoking
Since high blood pressure is linked to glaucoma, and smoking can increase high blood pressure, smoking should be avoided. Glaucoma is an eye disease that gradually breaks down the nerves in your optic area. Signals from the ocular area to the brain slowly die and, as a result, vision is eventually completely lost. This syndrome happens gradually with no noticeable symptoms until the nerve loss is significant, leading many individuals with this condition to be blissfully unaware for long stretches of time.
Diabetic Retinopathy and Smoking
Studies show that smoking can also increase your chances of getting diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is a degenerative disease of the eye that gets worse over time. The first indications appear as weakened blood vessels in the eye. The faintness is due to liquid leaking into the retina area from the blood vessels. This symptom will cause a patient to first experience blurry vision.
As in most cases, diabetic retinopathy causes blood sugar levels stay high. The disease worsens and newer blood vessels actually grow within the retina. The newer blood vessels are weak and eventually burst. Leakage begins to affect the middle part of the eye, gradually leading to vision loss. Doctors have warned patients who suffer from diabetes not to smoke. Health complications from diabetes can be made worse and cause retinopathy.
Secondhand Smoke and Vision
People who live with a smoker are also at risk for vision problems. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 toxic compounds, which include aromatic hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde materials. If you are a smoker at present, there is still hope for you. Research also shows that individuals who decide to quit smoking to improve their vision health, can reduce their chances of getting vision-related eye disease by 20 percent.