The Ocular Consequences of Smoking

Everyone knows that smoking cigarettes is bad for you. Tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco, is responsible for almost half a million deaths each year in the United States alone. Smoking increases the risk of stroke and heart disease by 2 to 4 times. In addition to the lungs, tobacco can cause cancers of many different organs, including the bladder, colon, kidneys, liver, and stomach.

What many people don’t know is that smoking can negatively affect your eyesight and ocular health. It increases the risk for both cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Last year, a report by the Surgeon General noted “strong evidence for a causal relationship between smoking and AMD.”

Additional risks exist for BostonSight® PROSE patients and contact lens wearers who smoke. Cigarette smoke is a major eye irritant and a known cause of ocular dryness. Further, tar and nicotine deposits left on the fingers from smoking can contaminate your prosthetic devices or contact lenses, causing a burning sensation in the eye.

Unfortunately, in many countries, including the US, the relationship between eye disease and smoking is not well-known. A 2014 report issued by the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (ITC Project) stated that only 9.5% of smokers surveyed in the US believe that smoking can cause blindness. Respondents in Canada and the United Kingdom had similarly low rates; while in Australia, which has a national awareness campaign about the link between smoking and eye disease, 47.2% of survey respondents believe that smoking can cause blindness.

Raising public awareness of the ocular consequences of smoking should be an important part of the US efforts to reduce tobacco use. To learn more, you can read this informative fact sheet, produced by the New York Department of Health.