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The Impact of Smoking on the Eyes

It is well known that smoking has many negative health effects including heart disease, cancer, and breathing problems. What many people may not know is that smoking has many negative effects on the eyes as well!

There are many different areas of the eye that are impacted by smoking including the lens, cornea, and retina. In the lens, smoking can cause cataracts to develop at an earlier age and/or progress more quickly if you already have them. Cataracts ultimately cause a decrease in vision that requires surgery to resolve.

On the surface of the eye, smoking can lead to an increase in symptoms of dry eye disease. These symptoms include blurry or fluctuating vision, a sandy or scratchy feeling in your eyes, and redness. Second hand smoke can also exacerbate symptoms of dry eye disease.

Another, more serious and visually detrimental, disease that can be caused or worsened by smoking is macular degeneration. As many of you know, macular degeneration causes a loss of central vision over time due to the destruction of the cells in your retina that make up the macula. The damage that occurs due to macular degeneration is irreversible and smoking is the most controllable risk factor that contributes to macular degeneration. This means that, by smoking, you are significantly increasing your risk of developing macular degeneration compared to someone your age who doesn’t smoke.

As you can see, the effects of smoking – and second hand smoke – impact many systems in the body but especially the eyes. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your long-term health and wellness.

By Alicia Alvarado, OD

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