Can Smoking Affect Your Eyes?

by Jan 5, 2021

Smoking has a variety of adverse effects on the body and the eyes are no exception. It is often a risk factor for developing several diseases or exacerbates existing conditions. Here are some of the interactions that smoking has with the health of your eyes.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD)

Smoking is one of the main modifiable changes to prevent age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) development and progression.

ARMD is caused in the initial stages by a buildup of oxidized fatty waste material between the choroid, made of blood vessels, and the retina, which is the photosensitive back of the eye. This blocks the sensory retinal cells that convert light into nervous signals from their nutrient source, leading to damage and death.

Specifically, this disease involves damage to the macula, the portion of the area on the retina that is responsible for your central vision. This results in loss of vision centrally and currently there is no treatment that can reverse this disease.

Various studies have shown that smokers are more likely to develop ARMD compared to non-smokers.

Once they have ARMD-like changes in their eyes, those who continue to smoke are also more likely to have the ARMD advance to cause bleeding and atrophy in the macula and resulting profound vision loss.

The scientific evidence for this association is strong enough that if our eye doctor finds initial signs of ARMD in your eyes, their first recommendation will be that you immediately quit smoking.

Smoking Can Cause (or Worsen) Cataracts

A cataract is a clouding and yellowing of the natural lens within the eye. This lens is responsible for focusing light onto the retina at the back of the eye.

The clouding causes people to experience blurry vision, glare, and a dimming effect with a diminished ability to distinguish colors and contrast. The change usually occurs gradually over years, but can also occur in the span of months if it is due to causative medications or conditions.

The treatment for cataracts is surgery to remove and replace the lens within the eye. Smoking increases the risk of developing cataracts and increases the likelihood that surgery will be needed sooner.


Smoking is a risk factor for developing glaucoma as well. Glaucoma involves the loss of peripheral vision due to changes to the optic nerve at the back of the eye, often associated with increased eye pressure.

The optic nerve transmits information from the eye to the brain and thus damage to this area will have detrimental effects to vision.

Can Smoking Affect Your Diabetes?

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) refers to damage to the back of the eye as a result of diabetes. In DR, the blood vessels at the back of the eye are damaged and become leaky.

This can result in hemorrhages and swelling of the retinal cells. Blurred and distorted vision results, ultimately leading to blindness through many issues if left untreated.

Cigarette smoke can increase the likelihood of blockages in the blood vessels and dysfunction of the vessel walls. This can in turn increase the chance of leakage of blood or formation of excess and weak blood vessels that can cause permanent damage to the eye.


Dry Eye Disease and Smoking

Dry eye disease can easily be exacerbated by the smoke produced by cigarettes. The smoke contains many chemicals and debris that can enter the eye, irritating and drying out the tear film that lubricates the front surface of the eye.

Second hand smokers will often also be consistently affected by this and unfortunately can develop dry eye disease as well. Symptoms include irritated, red, gritty, and itchy eyes.

Smoking has an overall detrimental impact on the health of the body, and anything that is bad for the body generally shows up as ill health in the eyes.

Our eye doctors at EyeDocs Family Eye Care in Brookville, OH excel in prescription of glasses, contact lenses and the diagnosis of a variety of eye disese. Call our optometrists at 937-770-1265 or schedule an eye exam appointment online if you would like to learn more about how smoking can affect your eyes. Our eye doctors, Dr. Kyle Maxam and Dr. Cara Wampler, provide the highest quality optometry services and eye exams in Brookville, Ohio.

You can schedule your next appointment with us online!

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