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World No Tobacco Day – The links between smoking and eye health

Today is World No Tobacco Day!

If you are a smoker and have been meaning to give up, then maybe learning more about the effects of smoking on your eye health might prompt you to kick the habit.

Most people know that smoking is associated with cancers affecting the lungs, mouth and throat, but did you know that smoking can have a huge impact on your eyes?

Check out these common eye conditions which are all linked with smoking:

Age-related Macular Degeneration

The link between smoking and Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) has been known for many years. In fact, smokers are up to four times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers, and the British Medical Journal has published research that suggests that 1 in 5 cases of AMD are caused by tobacco consumption.

Additionally, smokers are shown to develop AMD on average 5 years earlier than non-smokers. Smoking causes blood vessels to narrow throughout the body, and this also affects the blood vessels in the eye.

This narrowing of blood vessels increases overall blood pressure, and this is a known risk factor for AMD. And there’s more bad news: if you have wet AMD already, there is also evidence suggesting that smokers respond less well to treatment.

As AMD is heavily affected by environmental factors, quitting smoking is a really good way to significantly decrease your risk of developing the disease,


Cataracts are also associated with smoking, with heavy smokers (people that smoke more than 15 cigarettes a day or more) being three times more at risk of cataracts than non-smokers.

Cataracts cause the lens inside your eye to become cloudy – the effect is like looking through a dusty or cloudy windshield – things look blurry, hazy and less clear with a cataract.

There is encouraging news – early symptoms may be improved with surgery to replace the cloudy lens with an artificial alternate – but one of the best preventative measures is giving up (or never taking up) smoking and wearing sunglasses in sunny environments.


Smokers are twice as likely to suffer uveitis as non-smokers. Uveitis is an inflammation of the uvea, which is the middle layer of the eye, and it can cause both pain and vision changes.

Uveitis can also lead to further sight problems such as glaucoma and cataracts, which we know smokers are already at risk from.

However, Uveitis can be treated, and in most cases respond well to steroid medication, but it’s important to remember that smoking is a major risk factor.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic Retinopathy is an eye disease that affects the retina, and it is caused by elevated blood sugar levels.

Anyone with uncontrolled diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. These high sugar levels damage the small vessels of the retina, which is the light sensitive tissues in the back of the eye. It’s the retina that is responsible for processing the images that make vision possible.

Smoking is a major risk factor for diabetic retinopathy, and if you already have it, it will cause it to progress even faster. As we already know, the nicotine in tobacco contributes to higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels, but it also impairs insulin activity.

In the case of diabetic retinopathy, quitting smoking is critical to eye and heart health, and controlling diabetes.

Changing behaviour

Has listing some of the eye diseases associated with smoking persuaded you to quit yet? Perhaps not. But you should also remember that smoking doesn’t just affect you; smoking around your loved ones and friends also increases their risk of suffering sight loss!

The NHS has lots of resources to help you stop smoking. Find out more here. 

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