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Smoking and the Eyes

Doctors have long noted a strong correlation between cigarette smoke and a myriad of health concerns, including cancer, respiratory disease, and cardiovascular disease. Tobacco use is projected to kill a billion people during the 21st century.


Cigarette smoke contains toxic chemicals such as nicotine, cyanide, benzene, formaldehyde, methanol, acetylene, and ammonia, not to mention tar, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxide.


The eyes are not immune to the vicious effects of tobacco. Ocular conditions directly or indirectly related to smoking include:

  • Cataracts

  • Macular Degeneration

  • Dry eye disease

  • Diabetic retinopathy

  • Ocular ischemic syndrome

  • Retinal vascular occlusions

  • Anterior ischemic optic neuropathy

  • Thyroid eye disease

  • Metastatic carcinoma to the uvea


Repeated exposure to tobacco smoke also accelerates the body’s aging process, including that of eye and eyelids. The chemicals in cigarette smoke reduce the body’s ability to protect itself by concurrently increasing the levels of oxidants (free radicals) and decreasing the levels of antioxidants. Smoking causes blood vessels throughout the body to narrow and stiffen, known as arteriolar sclerosis. It also reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood, thus reducing the amount of oxygen reaching the retina.


The more the person smokes, the higher the risk of blindness. If a patient has already been diagnosed with an ocular condition, smoking can increase the risk of serious vision loss. Fortunately, after people quit smoking, the risk for ocular diseases becomes almost as low as for people who have never smoked.


Cigarettes are not the only delivery method for tobacco. There are many non-cigarette forms like cigars, pipes, water pipes (hookah), and e-cigarettes. Unfortunately, all of these have the same effects on the eyes.

Quit Smoking for Good

It is never too late to quit. No matter how long you have smoked, when you quit smoking, your risk of eye disease starts to drop. You are more likely to quit smoking for good if you prepare for two things: your last cigarette, and the cravings, urges, and feelings that come with quitting.


Think about quitting in five steps:


1. Set a Quit Date

Choose a date within the next seven days when you will quit smoking. Tell your family members and friends who are most likely to support your efforts.

2. Choose a Method for Quitting

You can

  • Stop smoking all at once on your quit day

  • Reduce the number of cigarettes per day until you stop smoking completely

  • Smoke only part of your cigarette. Count the number of puffs you take and reduced it every 2-3 days.

3. Decide if you Need Medicines or Other Help to Quit

Talk to you primary care physician to discuss which medicines are best for you, and get instructions on how to use it. These may include pills, gum, sprays, patches, or inhalers. There are also smoking cessation programs out there.

4. Plan for your Quit Date

Get rid of all cigarettes, matches, lighters, ashtrays, and anything that is related to smoking. Find healthy substitutes. Go for walks, carry sugarless gum or mints, munch on carrots or celery.


5. Stop Smoking on your Quit Date

If you smoke after quitting

  • This does not mean that you are a smoker again. Do something to get back on track.

  • Do not punish or blame yourself. Tell yourself you are still a non-smoker.

  • Think about why you smoked and decide what to do differently the next time.

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