Smoking and the Eyes

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This week’s blog on Smoking and the eyes has been contributed by Dr Ammar Safar, Medical Director, Consultant Ophthalmologist and Vitreoretinal Surgeon.
Most people are very aware that smoking in all shapes can cause cancer, lung and heart disease, as well as many other health problems but people are always surprised when I tell them that smoking can seriously affect the health of their eyes too. Here are some of the more important eye conditions affected by smoking:

  • Dry eyes: This is a very common condition especially in the gulf area and it can be severely aggravated by smoking. Patients will feel burning sensation, scratchy eyes, redness, sandy sensation and severe irritation.
  • Macular degeneration: this is a vision threatening condition that affects people over age 55 and can cause severe distortion or loss of central vision. Smokers are 4 times more likely to get this condition than non-smokers and people who live with smokers are 2 times as likely to get it too. Recent medical improvements have introduced a treatment for the severe form of AMD in the form of injections in the eye to restore vision loss. Research has proven that smokers are much less likely to respond to these injections than non-smokers.
  • Cataract: This is clouding of the natural lens of the eye that obstructs vision. People who smoke are 2 times more likely to get cataract than those who do not.
  • Diabetic retinopathy: People who are diabetic and smoke have much more risk of developing problems in the retina called diabetic retinopathy. This can be a serious condition and lead to blindness.
  • Smoking while pregnant: If you smoke while being pregnant you could increase your child’s risk of bacterial meningitis by 5 folds. This condition causes swelling around the tissue of the brain and can seriously affect the eyes and the optic nerve. In addition to that, smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of early delivery. This can have direct effect on the eyes and especially on the retina. This condition is called Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) which is a serious condition, if left untreated can lead to permanent vision loss.

Patients are advised to engage in programs that lead to quitting this dangerous habit. Studies have shown that patients who quit smoking reduce their risks to pre smoking levels after 5 years of quitting.