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the effects of smoking on the eyes

While much of the Western medical world treats the body in terms of separate parts, optometrists, and ophthalmologists see firsthand how connected the body is. While a general physician may talk about smoking and its effects on the heart and lungs, your optometrist knows smoking affects vision and eye health.

In addition to the overall health risks that damage your health, associated with vision, studies show that toxins included in tobacco-related products irritate the eyes, making them more susceptible to infection. Several studies also show that smoking-related toxins cause cerebral lesions in the area of the brain that processes vision. This is on top of the effects smoking has on the eyes discussed below.

7 Ways The Effects Of Smoking Can Damage Your Vision & Eye Health

If you smoke cigarettes, your risk is notably increased for all of the most common causes of eye disease, vision loss, and blindness. If you are a smoker, speak to your healthcare team or optometrist and learn how we can support your desire to quit once and for all.

Here are seven ways smoking affects vision and eye health.

The effects of smoking increase the risk of diseases that compromise vision

The same medical risks associated with smoking, like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and poor circulation all take a toll on the eyes. You would be amazed at all of the diseases and medical conditions an optometrist can predict based on what we find during a routine eye exam. 

Any unhealthy lifestyle habits that take their toll on your physical health also take a toll on vision health.

Diabetic retinopathy

That’s a perfect segue to a smoker’s increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and the development of diabetic retinopathy. People who smoke are 30% to 40% more likely to develop diabetes, which causes diabetic retinopathy. And, once a smoker develops diabetes, they have a harder time managing the disease than their non-smoking counterparts. 

As a result, smokers have an exponentially higher risk of experiencing significant vision loss or going legally blind than those who don’t smoke.

Age-related macular degeneration

As its name implies, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a condition most often diagnosed in adults over 65. It is the most common cause of vision loss. The condition impairs your central vision, making it difficult to read or drive, and it is not curable. AMD also makes it difficult for patients to recognize faces or detect differences in color and also impairs depth perception.

Smoking causes the vessels in the retina to constrict, which then increases blood pressure. This causes chronic and irreparable damage.


Cataracts are a cloudy film that develops on top of the eye’s clear lens. As the film grows more opaque, vision becomes blurry. Without cataract surgery and a change in lifestyle, cataracts lead to blindness. Smoking increases the number of free radicals (also cancer-causing agents) in the eyes, which catalyze and speed up the development of cataracts.

Uveitis is another one of the effects of smoking to watch out for

If you smoke and wake up with red, irritated eyes – don’t automatically assume you have pink eye. Patients who smoke have a higher risk of developing uveitis, an infection that affects the middle layer of the eye anatomy. This layer is called the uvea. Unlike pink eye, which typically resolves independently with proper care, rest, and time (typically one to two weeks), uveitis requires immediate treatment. 

It can cause permanent damage to both the iris (the colored part of your eye) and the retina. If left untreated, it also contributes to the development of cataracts and increases your risk of retinal detachment and glaucoma

Dry eye syndrome

Cases of dry eye are increasingly common due to our culture’s increased dependence on screens. However, smokers also have higher rates of dry eye due to irritation from toxins. If you smoke and wear contacts, your chances of developing dry eye are even higher.

In addition to being annoying, the chronic eye irritation associated with dry eye makes the eyes more prone to eye strain and infection. Preservative-free lubricating eye drops are the best way to provide dry eyes with the moisture they need to clean themselves and remain hydrated. Patients with chronic dry eye may require treatment including prescription drops or ointments, assisted by specific eye exercises.

Retinal detachment can be one of the many effects of smoking

The retina is attached to the inner-rear surface of a healthy eye. In some cases, due to trauma, disease, or lifestyle choices (like smoking), the retina begins to detach. Smoking increases whole-body inflammation, including inflammation of the circulatory system. When blood vessels in the eyes experience chronic inflammation, they grow more fragile. This fragility increases the risk of them breaking and leaking fluid into the eye retina, causing the retina to pull away from its anchor at the rear of the eye.

Signs of retinal detachment include seeing floaters, shadows, or obscured vision at the periphery of your vision, flashes of light, or a “gray curtain” hovering over your vision. While some cases of retinal detachment can be treated, others cannot. Also, quitting smoking is a primary request of any ophthalmologist performing retinal detachment corrections surgery, as continuing to smoke compromises your ability to heal and puts you at risk for repeat detachments.

Atlantic Eye Institute Supports Your Decision To Quit Smoking

We know that smoking is one of the hardest things you’ll ever due. Nicotine addiction is powerful. However, we’ve witnessed firsthand what a positive, life-changing experience it is when patients nip the habit for good. Your healthy lifestyle choices, including giving up smoking, have an immediate beneficial effect on your body and your vision. 

Schedule a consultation with Atlantic Vision Institute to learn more about how we can support your decision to quit smoking. Protecting your overall health, including your vision, is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. 

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