The Link Between Glaucoma and Smoking
January 19 2023
The Effects of Smoking on Eye Health and How You Can Preserve Your Vision Through Healthy Habits
Despite the well-known, negative health effects of smoking, this has not stopped more than a billion people worldwide from picking up this addictive habit.
Most people are aware that smoking can cause cancer and lead to pulmonary disease. However, few realize that smoking can harm our eyes as well. Regularly smoking can increase the risk of developing eyesight-threatening diseases such as glaucoma.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases caused by a buildup of pressure within the eye, usually due to a buildup of excess fluid in the eye. The longer the pressure builds, the more damage it causes, particularly to the optic nerve. Because images are relayed from the eye to the brain through optic nerve impulses, glaucoma can result in permanent vision loss and even blindness.
The Link Between Smoking and Glaucoma
A retrospective study published in 2018 found that the more packs of cigarettes a smoker consumed, the greater their odds of developing glaucoma. This study found that the retinal nerve fiber layer (RNFL) is significantly affected by smoking. The RNFL is responsible for collecting visual data from the eye’s retinal nerves and directing that data to the optic nerve. The study found that smokers had a significantly thinner RNFL and this thinning is associated with glaucoma as well as other eye conditions.
Furthermore, smoking can also damage the retina, the lens, and the macula.
It is also important to note that when you have a genetic risk, smoking can speed up the progression of your eye condition.
Other Eye Conditions Linked to Smoking
Glaucoma isn’t the only eye condition linked to smoking. Other conditions include:
- Cataracts: smokers are twice as likely to develop cataracts, which cause the eyes to become cloudy, leading to blurry vision; it progressively gets worse over time and must be surgically removed to restore vision
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): smokers are 3 times more likely to develop AMD, which causes blind spots in the central vision and can sometimes lead to total blindness
Smokers can also be at a higher risk of developing:
- Diabetic retinopathy: smoking can increase your chances of developing diabetes, and can complicate or worsen the symptoms of diabetes, including retinopathy; diabetic retinopathy affects the tiny blood vessels of the retina, leading to serious damage and loss of vision
- Dry eye syndrome: a disease that appears as damaged blood vessels in the eye which can lead to irritation and itchy, scratchy eyes as well as a burning sensation
There has also been some research on a possible link between smoking and graves’ ophthalmopathy, or thyroid eye disease. However, more research is needed to make a conclusive link. Graves’ eye disease causes irritation, sensitivity, and double vision among other symptoms as a result of an overactive thyroid caused by Graves’ disease.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Vision
Healthy habits can help you preserve your vision and lower your risk of developing eye conditions that lead to vision loss.
The best thing any smoker can do to reduce their risk of eye disease is to quit smoking. Speak with your doctor about strategies to help you quit. Remember, quitting smoking will always have a positive effect on your health and can decrease your risk for other nicotine-related health issues, such as cancer. While quitting smoking can be hard, making a plan with your doctor can help improve your odds of quitting. There are many different cessation aids to help you quit, including nicotine replacement and therapy.
You should also eat an eye-healthy diet. This diet of healthy foods includes leafy greens, fatty fish, and fruits and veggies that are high in vitamins C, E, and beta carotene. Here is a list of foods to help improve your eye health:
- Red peppers
- Sweet potatoes
- Brussels sprouts
- Nuts, seeds, and legumes such as: sunflower seeds, chickpeas, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, and peanut butter
- Dark leafy greens including: kale, spinach, and collard greens
- Lean meat and poultry
It is important to control your blood pressure and cholesterol as well. Avoid high-fat foods, sugars, and high amounts of sodium.
Regular eye exams are essential as they can help catch eye diseases and conditions early on. This will allow your doctor to take action and preserve or improve your vision.