Is your eyesight going up in smoke?

Did you know that smokers, and even users of smokeless tobacco, are far more likely to go blind late in life?

Did you know that the smoke from the tip of a burning cigarette is 46 times more toxic than the smoke coming out of the filter and is about 80 percent of the total smoke from a cigarette?

Scientifically we have accepted that smoking causes immediate and long-term damage to the body, including heart disease, diabetes and many types of cancer. What we don’t see as often is that smoking also makes it much more likely to develop cataracts, macular degeneration, Graves’ Disease, retinopathy, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.

The nicotine in tobacco is a big part of the problem. It temporarily raises your blood pressure and heart rate while at the same time narrowing and hardening your arterial walls. It also makes your blood more likely to clot. Smoking lessens oxygen to the delicate eye structures and introduces carbon monoxide. The Journal of the American Medical Association shows that regular smokers have double and even triple the risk of nonsmokers of developing macular degeneration, a condition which destroys the central vision needed to read. There is no cure.

Macular degeneration has serious implications; people who have it:

  • Cannot drive
  • Cannot read or see detail on TV
  • Cannot easily recognize faces
  • Confuse medicine labels
  • Fall more easily and suffer more complications from falling
  • Relationships may change, and you may need more help from family and friends
  • Changes can lead to feelings of loss, lowered self-esteem, isolation, and depression
  • May lose independence quicker and may require residential care earlier than if your vision was normal

For pregnant women, smoking and second-hand smoke can lead to under-development of the optic nerve of the newborn, a leading cause of blindness. This same exposure has been proven to increase the risk of SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Just researching and writing this article is turning into a horror show for me personally as an ex-smoker; because I now know that smoking scars DNA. While most of the disease-causing genetic changes left by smoking fade after several years when someone quits, some changes appear to stay—forever! Looking forward to my fifth grandchild, it hits home so much more.

Usually, an article like this is not read by a smoker, they don’t want to see it and they have already heard it so many times. An ex-smoker or someone who never formed the habit, a friend or family member, will read it and then try to influence someone they care about.

Glenda Brown, a doctor in Alpharetta, Ga., said in an article “Quitting cigarettes is difficult, but your eyesight is certainly worth the effort.”  Now we know it’s not just for us, but possibly even more for those around us.


Grant Brown, ABOM, NCLEC, LDO, LCDO, OO, FNAO, HFOAA, is a senior optician with the Prisma Health Eye Institute.


Glenda Brown, OD, Interview VSP

The New Smoking Story: Going Blind  CDCCDC Features Healthy Living

Smoking and Eye Health  American Cancer Society

How Smoking Affects the Eyes

How Smoking Harms Your Vision  Dennis Thompson, Jr.

WebMD Health News  Salynn Boyles 

American Optometric Association  Website

Austrailian Government Quitline  Website

Smoking and Eye Disease  Better Health Channel Victoria State

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