Throughout our nation’s history, tobacco use has been prevalent, with its peak occurring in the 1950s. Even today, according to the CDC, an approximate 43.8 million adults, or 19% of the U.S. adult population, continue to smoke. Undeniably, the habit is difficult to break. However, smoking has been proven to carry many detrimental side effects, especially for regular and long-term users. Most well-known among those side effects are cancer, heart disease, and stroke. However, few realize the harmful impact that smoking has on vision as well.
Cigarette smoke has been proven to be highly toxic. It contains harmful compounds such as tar, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde. Over time, these compounds take their toll on your eyes, along with the rest of your body. Researchers have found direct links between smoking and two major causes of vision loss:
Research indicates that the risk of developing cataracts is doubled in individuals who smoke. For heavy smokers, the risk triples. As cataracts develop, they cause the clear lens of the eye to become cloudy. The result is increasingly blurred vision which may even require surgery to help alleviate. It is believed that smoking contributes to the condition through oxidation which alters the cells of the eye’s lens. Additionally, smoking may also cause accumulation of cadmium and other heavy metals in the lens.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
The macula is the center of the retina and is responsible for the perception of fine details and direct line of sight. Over time, the tissue of the macula may thin and break down, resulting in blurred vision and a decreased ability to see details and colors. As with cataracts, researchers are finding that the risk for macular degeneration increases proportionately with how frequently an individual smokes. Similar to the effect on the lens, the macula is believed to be susceptible to changes in the cells due to oxidation. Furthermore, it is believed that smoking leads to restricted blood flow to the retina, increasing the likelihood for these conditions.
Fortunately, the cessation of smoking has the ability to help avoid these potential conditions, as well as reverse some of the damage that may have already been done. For instance, according to Cancer.org, carbon monoxide levels in the blood return to normal within 12 hours of quitting and circulation improves within 2 weeks to 3 months. While the risk for developing cataracts or age-related macular degeneration will always be higher for former smokers, quitting can reduce that risk by up to 20% when compared with current smokers.