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Smoking and Eye Disease

Tobacco smoking is directly linked to many adverse health effects, including high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. Smoking is also linked to specific eye disease.

How does smoking affect the eyes?

People who smoke cigarettes are at increased risk for developing cataracts, a clouding of the naturally clear lens of the eye. Cataracts cause a variety of vision problems, including blurry distance vision, sensitivity to glare, loss of contrast and difficulty seeing colors. When glasses or magnifiers are no longer helpful for someone with cataracts, or when cataracts develop in both eyes, surgery is the only option.

Tobacco smoking is also one of the preventable risk factors for age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Studies have shown that current smokers and ex-smokers are more likely to develop AMD than people who have never smoked. AMD has two forms: dry (called atrophic) AMD and wet (called exudative) AMD. In dry AMD, your retina gradually thins. There is no proven cure for this type of degenerative disease. In wet AMD new blood vessels grow in the retina and leak blood or fluid which damages the macula, the part of the retina responsible for your central vision. The types of treatment currently available for specific forms of wet AMD are standard laser surgery,  photodynamic therapy, or antiangiogenesis medications all of which may stabilize the disease.

In people with high blood-sugar levels, some studies suggest that smoking may be linked to diabetic retinopathy, or damage to the blood vessels in the retina.  The optic nerve is also susceptible to damage from smoking.  People with poor diets or smoke heavily and drink excessive amounts of alcohol run the risk of developing optic nerve-related vision loss (called tobacco-alcohol amblyopia). Certain optic nerve problems run in families (called Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy).  People with this condition who smoke have increased risk of vision loss. In some patients with thyroid disease (called Graves’ disease) who also have eye involvement, smoking can cause the eye involvement to worsen and vision loss is possible.

People who do not produce enough tears to keep their eyes comfortably lubricated have a condition called dry eye. For these people, smoking is a significant irritant.  Smoking can worsen the symptoms of scratchiness, stinging or burning of the eyes, and can cause excess tearing.

How does smoking affect fetal/infant eye health?

Studies have also shown a strong association between smoking during pregnancy and the risk of invasive meningitis during early childhood. The risk of bacterial meningitis is five times higher among children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy. In addition to other severe health problems, childhood meningitis can cause inflammation of the cornea and pink eye. Smoking during pregnancy is also associated with low birth weight and premature birth. And finally, oxygen therapy given to sustain the lives of premature infants can cause retinopathy of prematurity, causing permanent vision loss or blindness.

There are resources to help you quit smoking.

There are numerous community organizations committed to helping people quit smoking. The American Cancer Society (ACS) offers smoking cessation classes around the U.S. Contact ACS at 1-800-ACS-2345 or online at www.cancer.org to find the chapter near you.

Living With One Good Eye

People who lose vision in one eye because of an injury or a medical condition must adapt to a narrower field of vision and loss of depth perception. They still see small objects as well as before, assuming the other eye is normal.

People often think children with strabismus (misalignment of the eye) or amblyopia (lazy eye) have poor depth perception because they have trouble using two eyes together. Although these children do poorly on tests of depth perception in an ophthalmologist’s office, they have learned to adapt from an early age. In real-world circumstances, they do not have trouble with depth perception.

At first, adults who lose vision in one eye tend to have a few fender-benders, and reach out next to the hand they want to shake. But with patience and time, they learn to use clues to depth perception that do not require both eyes.

Jump-Starting Your Car

Many people in Wisconsin suffer severe eye injuries every year because they do not take proper precautions while jump-starting their car. A spark caused by hooking up the jumper cables can ignite fumes and cause the battery to explode. Battery acid and flying battery parts can blind you.

Here are few simple precautions to avoid a serious injury:

  • Wear protective goggles during all phases of the procedure. Keep a pair attached to your jumper cables.
  • Put out cigarettes before opening the hood. Use a flashlight, not a match, to look under the hood at night.
  • Be certain the vehicles are not in contact with each other.
  • Do not allow the cable clamps to touch each other.
  • Attach the positive (+) cable (red) to the positive terminal of the dead battery first. Then attach the other end of the positive cable to the good battery.
  • Attach the negative (-) cable (black) to the negative terminal of the good battery. Then attach the other end of the negative cable to the engine block away from the negative terminal. Do not attach a cable to the negative terminal of the dead battery.
  • Once the engine is started, carefully remove the cables in reverse order, again not allowing the clamps to touch.
  • Do not lean over the battery during the jumping process.

If an injury does occur, seek medical care immediately.

Tanning Beds

Tanning beds produce high levels of ultra-violet (UV) light that tan the skin and burn the cornea, the clear covering of the eye. The burn is not felt until 6-12 hours after exposure, so you can suffer a severe burn without realizing it. UV light may also cause cataracts, and be a factor in the development of macular degeneration.

Of course, an ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure, so always use protective eyewear while using a tanning bed. Closing your eyes, wearing regular sunglasses, and using cotton pads on your eyelids does not protect your cornea from the intensity of the UV radiation in tanning devices.

Tanning facilities are required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide goggles, but it is best to obtain your own pair so you will always be prepared. Make sure your goggles fit snugly and cover your eyes properly. If you borrow the salon’s goggles, be sure they are sterilized after each use to prevent infection.

Since you do not usually burn under tanning devices, most people do not realize the potential damage to their eyes. If you experience eye pain after UV exposure, seek medical care.