Smoking is one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the UK, according to the NHS. Every year around 78,000 people in the UK die from smoking, with many more living with debilitating smoking-related illnesses. Smoking is the single biggest cause of lung cancer and can also cause a number of other cancers and lung-related conditions. It also damages the heart, increasing the risk of getting heart disease and having a heart attack or stroke.
But on top of this, people who smoke are twice more likely to lose their vision than non-smokers, warns eye care specialist Optical Express.
Smoke contains over 7,000 dangerous chemicals which, according to the eye expert, can cause uveitis – a painful condition that causes inflammation of the middle layer of the eye.
If left untreated, uveitis can progress into more serious conditions like cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma and ultimately blindness.
“Smoking can cause dry eyes because the tobacco and noxious particles from a cigarette irritate the protective film of the eye known as the conjunctiva,” said Stephen Hannan, clinical services director at Optical Express.
“As more and more destructive particles are let in, smokers are three times more likely to be diagnosed with cataracts.”
Cataracts cause the eyes’ crystalline lens to become cloudy, which in turn causes reduced vision.
“The harmful metals found in cigarettes not only damage the front of the eye but can severely affect the blood vessels that supply much-needed nutrients to the eye,” warned Hannan.
This is because nicotine and carbon monoxide interfere with the blood vessels, accelerating a condition called atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis causes plaque to build up in the blood vessels, preventing them from being able to supply adequate blood to the body’s organs.
If this happens in the eyes, it can lead to a change in eyesight.
“Smokers are also four times more likely to be diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD),” noted Hannan.
AMD is an irreversible progressive eye condition in which the central part of the retina is damaged. This can lead to blindness.
Glaucoma, meanwhile, is a common eye condition in which the optic nerve becomes damaged. The optic nerve connects the eye to the brain.
The condition can lead to loss of vision if it isn’t diagnosed and treated early.
“Optical Express encourages those who smoke to keep on top of their eye health by attending regular eye tests,” Hannan advised.
For help on quitting smoking, speak to your doctor or call the NHS Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044.