Smoking tobacco (cigarettes, cigars or pipes) can cause lung disease, heart disease, cancer, and many other serious health problems. But did you know that smoking can also harm your eyes?
“Vaping has risks that are different from smoking,” said J Kevin McKinney, MD. “Vaping solutions often have much higher nicotine levels than cigarettes. While they do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, they do have other chemicals with known and unknown negative effects. We are still learning the type and magnitude of the risks of e-cigarettes.”
Here are some of the eye problems made worse by smoking, vaping, or a combination of the two.
This is when your eyes do not have enough – or the right kind of – tears. Smoking with dry eye will make your eyes more likely to feel scratchy, sting, burn or be red.
If you smoke, you are at increased risk for getting cataracts. A cataract is clouding of your eye’s naturally clear lens. It causes blurry vision and makes colors look dull, faded or yellowish. Cataracts are removed with surgery.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
This disease happens when a part of the retina called the macula is damaged. You lose your central vision and cannot see fine details. But your peripheral (side) vision stays normal. Sometimes medicine or laser can help certain people with AMD from getting worse. But there is no cure. Studies show that smokers and ex-smokers are more likely to get AMD than people who never smoked.
Smokers who also have diabetes risk getting diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is when blood vessels in the eye are damaged. It causes blurry or distorted vision and possibly blindness. Treatment includes medication, laser or surgery.
Optic nerve problems
People who smoke risk having optic nerve problems. The optic nerve connects the eye to the brain. Damage to this nerve can lead to blindness.
Smoking can increase risk factors which can lead to glaucoma – a disease that affects the optic nerve.
Smoking can lead to a disease that affects part of the eye called the uvea. This is the middle layer of the eye wall. Uveitis is when this layer becomes irritated. This disease causes a red eye, pain and vision problems.
This is a disease of the body’s thyroid gland. One of the symptoms of Graves’ disease is bulging eyes. Smokers who have Graves’ disease risk having their eye condition get worse. They can also lose vision.
Dual use: Smoking plus vaping exacerbates eye problems
Public health experts have noticed a growing trend toward both vaping and smoking cigarettes, especially among young people. This is known as dual use. About 40% of middle and high school students who smoked said that they used two or more tobacco products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The full extent of health problems caused by combining e-cigarettes with other tobacco products isn’t yet clear. But dual users are more likely to report eye problems including dryness, redness, pain, blurry vision, light sensitivity, and headaches, according to a study of more than 4,000 adolescents and young adults. Eye symptoms were much worse and frequent in dual users than in people who used only one product.
Serious eye injuries have also occurred when electronic cigarettes exploded. An e-cigarette explosion can cause serious burns and lacerations to the eye.
Pregnant? Smoking can harm your baby’s eyes.
If you smoke while pregnant, your baby is 5 times more likely to get bacterial meningitis as a child. This is when tissues around the brain swell. Meningitis can cause eye infection(s) and other vision problems.
Also, smoking during pregnancy increases your risk for giving birth too early. Premature birth can lead to a serious eye problem called “retinopathy of prematurity.” The baby may have permanent vision loss or blindness.
Toddlers and children are also at risk from secondhand smoke – a new study suggests children as young as 6 years old already show signs of eye damage.
The American Cancer Society has resources to help people who want to quit smoking.
Avoiding smoking and second-hand smoke – or quitting if you are a smoker – are some of the best investments you can make in your long-term eye health.