Eye Health Central

Smoking & The Effects on Eyes

Smoking and the Effects on Eyes

How Does Cigarette Smoke Affect Eyes?


Smoking tobacco is bad for just about every single part of the human body. Under the best circumstances, it may only cause minor issues, like darkened, wrinkly skin, bad breath, and stained teeth. However there's also the chance that it could cause something far more dangerous, like throat or lung cancer. But few people realize the many negative affects that smoking can have on the eyes.

People that smoke are twice as likely to develop cataracts. It's a condition that affects the cornea, a clear lens at the very front of the eye that focuses incoming light onto the retina. As the cataract develops, it causes the cornea to become cloudy, making it very difficult to see clearly. Eventually the eye becomes so cloudy that seeing becomes almost impossible and surgery will be needed in an attempt to correct vision.

Macular degeneration, the number two cause of blindness in the world, is also far more likely to be seen in smokers. What begins as a small shadow-like spot in the center of the field of view slowly darkens and grows over time until eventually becoming total blindness. While already common in senior citizens, the act of smoking makes it likely that macular degeneration will develop sooner and more rapidly.

Eyes aren't solid objects, but rather have a gooey fluid center. This fluid needs to be kept at an optimal internal pressure in order for the eye to stay healthy and operate normally. Glaucoma is an eye disease that causes the internal pressure to rise, either by producing too much fluid, or limiting the rate at which it is able to drain. When this happens, certain tissues within the eye slowly begin to fail and die. Constricted blood vessels aren't able to properly deliver oxygen and nutrients, and blindness eventually sets in. The risk of developing glaucoma, like many other diseases, is significantly higher in people that smoke cigarettes.

Smoking also increases the risk of diabetes, a disease that has many negative side affects and consequences. One of which is diabetic retinopathy, a condition that causes damage to the blood vessels within the eye. This can then lead to retinal detachment, which makes the light sensing organ at the back of the eye no longer able detect light or communicate with the brain, effectively causing blindness.

Beyond eye issues that cause blindness, cigarettes can also cause irritation and discomfort. Dry eyes, for example, are very likely when exposed to smoke. The surface of the eyes will become less lubricated, causing them to feel scratchy and irritated, and appear red. Eye drops can help temporarily, but continuing to smoke will only make the problem persist.

Similarly, contact lenses don't react well to tobacco smoke exposure, either. In addition to the same complications of dry eyes, smoke particles can stick to the surface of the lenses, and get caught in between the lens and the eye. This can then lead to painful and dangerous lesions and ulcers on the eye, which can be hard to treat, and may cause permanent scarring.

Lastly, as nearly every one knows, smoking causes birth defects. But two of the specific defects that it can cause are lazy eyes and facial defects that affect the placement of the eyes in the skull. By smoking cigarettes while pregnant, or while around pregnant women, the developing child may end up being born with life-long disabilities.

Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 4 Sep 2016, Last modified: 4 Mar 2020