Clearing The Smoke: Understanding the Links Between Eye Disease and Smoking

Clearing The Smoke: Understanding the Links Between Eye Disease and Smoking


The risks of lung cancer and heart disease are well known, but the intricate relationship between smoking and various eye diseases remains a more mysterious concern. Let’s lift the lid on this crucial connection and unravel the mysteries behind smoking’s impact on your peepers.


How does smoking impact contact lens wearers?

Smoking significantly heightens the risks associated with wearing contact lenses, exacerbating issues such as irritation, dryness and infection due to the presence of smoke particles. These particles can stick to the lenses, leading to discomfort and potentially compromising eye health. 

Proper hygiene practices, including thorough hand washing and thorough drying before handling lenses are paramount for minimising these risks. 

Scheduling regular routine eye examinations is also crucial for contact lens wearers to maintain optimal eye health, as early detection of any complications is vital for treating and preventing any longer-term or more serious issues.


Can smoking really cause eye disease?

Most people know smoking can cause lung cancer, but very few know smoking can cause blindness. However, there is now a wealth of evidence showing that smoking does as much harm to your eyes as it does the rest of your body

Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your eyes, raising the risk of: 

  • age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
  • cataracts
  • thyroid eye disease
  • glaucoma
  • dry eye syndrome
  • impaired colour vision
eye disease and smoking

What connects eye disease and smoking?

The chemicals from tobacco affect blood vessels throughout the body, and one of the secondary effects is that they slowly damage the delicate surface and internal structures of the eye. Let’s explore the links between eye disease and smoking.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common eye condition that affects the macula, which is the central part of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision. It’s like your eye’s high-definition camera and helps you see fine details clearly, like reading or recognising faces.

In AMD, the macula deteriorates over time, leading to gradual vision loss in the centre of your field of vision. It’s called “age-related” because it usually happens as people get older, but it’s not a normal part of ageing. Studies show that smokers are much more likely to develop AMD compared to non-smokers


Cataracts are a common eye condition characterised by clouding of the lens, which is the clear structure inside the eye responsible for focusing light onto the retina. This clouding typically occurs gradually over time and can lead to blurry vision, decreased contrast sensitivity, and difficulty seeing in dim lighting conditions. 

Contrary to popular belief, cataracts aren’t solely a hallmark of ageing; they are exacerbated by smoking. People who smoke cigarettes are two to three times more likely to develop cataracts than people who don’t smoke. 

Thyroid eye disease

Thyroid eye disease is a condition where your thyroid gland goes haywire, and your eyes get caught in the crossfire. Smoking can make it worse by ramping up inflammation and making your eyes swell and bulge. 


Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions characterised by damage to the optic nerve, typically caused by elevated pressure within the eye. The optic nerve is responsible for transmitting visual information from the eye to the brain, so damage to this nerve can result in vision loss or even blindness if left untreated.

Smoking amplifies this threat. A long-term study of patients with glaucoma concluded that heavy smokers are 2.2 times more likely to have their vision loss progress than people who have never smoked.

Dry eye syndrome

Ever felt like your eyes were as dry as the Sahara Desert? That’s what happens with dry eye syndrome and smoking can make it even worse. Lighting up can mess with the glands in your eyelids that produce tears, leaving your eyes feeling parched and gritty. Plus, the chemicals in cigarette smoke can irritate your eyes, making them sting and burn even more. 

Impaired colour vision

Smoking can mess with the blood vessels in your eyes, cutting off the oxygen and nutrients they need to stay healthy. This can throw off your colour vision, making colours appear dull or faded. 

How to prevent eye disease from smoking

Now, before you start panicking and frantically googling the nearest eye specialist, take a deep breath, because there’s hope on the horizon. While the links between smoking and eye disease may seem daunting, there are steps you can take to safeguard your precious peepers. Here are some practical tips.

1 Be aware

First and foremost, awareness is key. By arming yourself with knowledge about the risks, you’re already one step ahead in the battle for healthy eyes.

2 Seek professional help

Seeking professional medical advice is another crucial step in the right direction. Get regular eye examinations to keep an eye on your eye health and catch any changes before they become a concern. If you notice any changes in your vision, it’s essential to see your eye doctor right away. They can provide personalised recommendations based on your unique situation.

3 Give up smoking

Consider kicking that smoking habit to the curb. It’s never too late to stub out that cigarette and embrace a healthier lifestyle. Your eyes (and your entire body) will thank you for it! Giving up smoking, no matter your age, comes with a host of benefits:

  • Reduces your chances of developing cancer, heart disease, stroke, and lung problems
  • Boosts your blood flow, keeping your body running smoothly
  • Enhances your taste buds and sense of smell, making every meal a delight
  • Amps up your stamina, making physical activities like walking, running, or dancing feel easier and more enjoyable
  • Inspires those around you to prioritise their health, setting a positive example for friends and family.

4 Get active

Regular exercise releases antioxidants and hormones that fight free-radical damage to the eyes. It also increases blood flow to the optic nerve and retina, which is beneficial in preventing AMD.

5 Eat well

Chow down on kiwis, egg yolks and kale. A diet abundant in lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamins C and E, zinc, selenium, and copper serves as a potent shield against the ravages of smoking on ocular tissues. Discover which foods are good for your eye health.

When it comes to your eye health, knowledge is power. Stay informed, stay proactive, and most importantly, stay smoke-free. Check out our blog for more ways to keep your eyes sparkling with health and vitality.


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