By Roshni Kanabar, Optometrist and Clinical Advisor at the Association of Optometrists
Everyone recognises that smoking is harmful to our health, it increases our risk of cancer and damages our heart, but do you know that smoking can cause sight loss as well?
Despite this, people rarely think of their eyes when considering the ill effects of lighting up. There are almost seven million smokers in the UK, yet only a fifth of the population draw the connection.
As an optometrist, I know that smokers are four times more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration, up to 10 years prematurely, and that they are twice as likely to develop conditions which can lead to other sight threatening eye disease, such as glaucoma and cataracts. Which is why I rank quitting smoking the single most important thing you can do to protect your eye health.
Smoking and eye disease
Smokers are at increased risk of a number eye conditions including:
1 Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the UK and affects the central part of your vision which can make everyday activities, such as reading or even recognising faces, difficult or impossible. There are two types of AMD – wet AMD, which can often be treated with injections in the eye if caught early enough, and dry AMD, for which there is currently very little effective treatment.
When the lens inside your eye becomes cloudy it is called cataract. Smoking doubles your risk of developing cataracts and often at an earlier age.
Smokers are at least twice as likely to develop uveitis – a condition where the middle layer of the eyeball becomes inflamed, causing eye pain and changes to your vision. The condition can also lead to secondary conditions, such as glaucoma and cataracts.
4 Diabetic retinopathy
If you suffer from diabetes, smoking increases your risk of developing retinopathy, where the blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye become damaged. This often causes blurred vision and dark spots and can lead to permanent loss of vision.
Where to get help
For help to stop you can get support from your local healthy living opticians and the NHS, which provides a free personal quit plan www.nhs.uk/smokefree
Whether you are a smoker or not, it’s important to visit your optometrist regularly to have a full eye health check – so any conditions can be identified and treated early.
To find out more visit www.aop.org.uk/patients
About the Association of Optometrists
The Association of Optometrists (AOP) is the leading representative membership organisation for optometrists in the UK. We support over 82% of practising optometrists, to fulfil their professional roles to protect the nation’s eye health. For more information, visit www.aop.org.uk