March 13th is National No Smoking Day in the UK.  Over the years we’ve all been made aware of how bad smoking is for us.  That it can cause heart disease and lung cancer.  But did you realise that smoking is just as bad for your eyes too?

Research has shown that smoking can be directly linked to two of the leading causes of loss of vision; cataracts and macular degeneration.  Researchers also believe that smoking causes or contributes to a number of other eye health problems including glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and dry eye syndrome.

It should be fairly obvious since with every cigarette we’re inhaling over 4,000 active and often toxic compounds including tar, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and heavy metals. This can’t be good for our bodies let alone our eyes.

20 ways smoking can affect your vision and eye health

In fact Vision Matters identified 20 ways that smoking can affect your vision and eye health.

  1. Tobacco smoke causes biological changes in your eyes that can lead to vision loss
  2. Cigarettes contain toxins that enter your eyes & increase your risk of sight loss by up to four times
  3. Tobacco chemicals damage blood vessels inside your eyes
  4. Tobacco chemicals interfere with the production of your tears
  5. Smoking causes oxidative stress and damages your retina
  6. Tobacco reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches your macula
  7. Smoking is a key risk factor for age related macular degeneration, the UK’s leading cause of blindness
  8. Research published in the British Medical Journal suggests 1 in 5 cases of age related macular degeneration are caused by tobacco consumption
  9. On average smokers develop age related macular degeneration 5 years earlier than non-smokers
  10. Smoking is a major risk factor in the development of cataracts
  11. The risk of nuclear cataracts is 3 times greater in smokers
  12. Smoking is a significant risk factor for developing diabetic retinopathy
  13. Smoking increases your risk of dry eye syndrome – the leading cause of eye irritation in over 65s
  14. Smoking is associated with the development of thyroid eye disease
  15. Smokers have increased prevalence of colour vision deficiency
  16. Nicotine poisoning can make it difficult to clearly distinguish colours with a red or green hue
  17. Smokers are twice as likely to suffer Uveitis than non-smokers.
  18. Smoking increases the risk of contact lens wearers suffering corneal ulcers
  19. Smoking in pregnancy increases the risk of your child having a squint
  20. Smoking around loved ones increases their risk of suffering sight loss


What You Can Do?

If you already smoke, quit!  Research has shown that if you quit you can quite quickly improve your chances of avoiding eye disease. After 1 year you have a 6.7% reduced risk of developing macular degeneration. After 5 years, the risk drops by another 5%.

The same goes for cataracts. The eyes can heal from the damage done by cigarette smoking, however this takes place more slowly. Doctors say people who have quit smoking for 25 years have a 20% lower risk of cataracts when compared with current smokers.

And if you don’t smoke, don’t start!  Ex-smokers still have an increased risk of vision loss from cataracts or macular degeneration when compared with people who have never lit up a cigarette.


You read more about how smoking can affect your eyes in the Vision Matters leaflet here 
And, if you need help to quit smoking visit the NHS website here



Vision Matters

New York State Department of Health