Did you know that 28.3 million Americans smoke cigarettes? And over 16 million of them are living with smoking-related diseases? We all know that smoking is bad for you and the effects of smoking on your eyes are extensive. But, did you know that the chemicals in cigarettes can harm the most sensitive part of the retina, called the macula? Your vision can be irreversibly damaged when cells of the macula die, or tiny blood vessels burst through it.
This isn’t just for those who smoke; it affects everyone who experiences secondhand smoke. Many non-smokers experience the irritating effects of smoking on their eyes. From burning to watering to itchiness to name a few. But little did they know that there are more effects of smoking than just these physical discomfort.
What Smoking Can Do to Your Eyes and Vision
Smoking can affect your eyes in a myriad of negative ways. Here are a few you should think about if you or someone you love likes to smoke:
- Smoking causes inflammation of the conjunctiva (the thin membrane covering the eye), resulting in bloodshot and irritated eyes.
- There is a direct link between cataracts and smoking. Smokers are at a higher risk of developing cataracts.
- Smoking is also linked to the eye disease referred to as macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is caused by cardiovascular disease and is a major cause of blindness in the West. Smoking causes cardiovascular disease.
- Quitting smoking will slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.
- Blood vessels shrink or get constricted due to smoking, causing glaucoma as well as optic nerve damage.
- Chemicals get into the bloodstream and burst through the macula (central part of the retina) or the cells in the macula die slowly. This eventually leads to loss of vision.
Getting rid of the smoking habit is the best way to protect one’s eyes. It is difficult to do so, but after all, who wants to go blind? It’s important for your own health to quit this bad habit. It’s also imperative for the people you live with that you quit. Babies, kids, and seniors are all especially vulnerable to the effects of inhaling secondhand smoke.
However, even if you do find a method to quit smoking yourself, you’re not in the clear. You still have to deal with secondhand smoke from other people. It’s best to avoid being near designated smoking areas or in the homes of people who smoke.
Suggested Ways to Quit
For some people, smoking is simply a bad habit that they picked up when they were young. However, for many, it can be an addiction. For these people, it becomes even more difficult to quit smoking. Many laws have taken effect in the United States that prevent smoking in workplaces or public areas, such as restaurants. These laws have drastically reduced exposure to secondhand smoke. They also make it more inconvenient for smokers to go have a smoke, challenging their desire and impulse to smoke.
Nicotine patches and gums help some people stop smoking. These can be expensive and they don’t always work for all smokers. However, if you truly want to stop smoking, they can help to reduce your craving for nicotine.
In recent years, companies have developed electronic cigarettes that use water vapor and a nicotine mix to replace cigarette smoke. For some people, these are an effective alternative to cigarettes and contain none of the damaging additives that cigarette smoke contains. They are also safe to use even around people who do not smoke. Another benefit is that there is no heat with this option so there is no chance of a fire starting accidentally.
One of the reasons these devices have been successful in helping smokers quit is that they mimic the shape and weight of a cigarette. Those with a behavioral addiction to smoking can replace the act with e-cigarettes and avoid adverse health problems. However, it is never a good idea to put any kind of smoke into your lungs long term, so this should only be used as a way to wean yourself off of cigarettes and move toward a smoke-free lifestyle
Some people turn to prescription drugs to help them stop smoking. If this option appeals to you, talk to your medical professional to learn about the options you may have. Be sure to talk to them about possible side effects of the drugs.
Are There Other Dangers to Our Vision?
Since its legalization in many states and in Canada, there has been some concern over the effects of cannabis smoke on the eyes. Many studies point to the benefits of medicinal marijuana on certain ailments, but are there any risks?
Scientific Reports published a recent article on the risks of smoking marijuana on the eyes. They report that regular marijuana smoking can disrupt the speed at which visual information from the retina is processed in the brain. Although some glaucoma patients use medicinal marijuana to decrease eye blood pressure, there isn’t enough research on the impact it has on the brain. Treating one problem could make the other vision problems worse. Until there are more studies, use medicinal marijuana with caution and under doctor’s facilitation.
While it may not actually affect your vision, if you are a smoker, you should be careful when taking vitamins or supplements that contain vitamin A. Vitamin A is necessary for eye health and is often included in eye supplements and eye vitamins. If you are a smoker, talk to your doctor before starting any vitamin or supplement. On the other hand, smokers are often deficient in vitamin C. Consider talking to your doctor about your vitamin C levels and if you should take a supplement.
Many people think that smoking addiction is simply a matter of people not wanting to quit. This may not be the case at all. If you have tried all the methods to quit you can find and they just aren’t working for you, at least try to take it outside the house. The effects of smoking and secondhand smoke on the eyes are too damaging to ignore. Avoid smoking around babies, children, and seniors. Remember that you risk not only your own vision but that of your family as well if you are smoking in your home.