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Smoking linked to increased risk of eye disease

Smoking linked to increased risk of eye disease

Cigarettes are often associated with lung cancer and heart disease. Did you know smoking also causes blindness?

Studies show that smoking may lead to age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and Dry Eye Syndrome. Many of these smoking-related eye disorders can result in permanent vision loss. Nonsmokers living with smokers are also at risk.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

AMD begins as a loss of central vision that increases significantly over time. There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. Dry AMD is the most common.

In dry AMD, fatty deposits form under the retina, the cells in the back of the eye that sense light. Vision loss in dry AMD usually gets worse gradually. In wet AMD, tiny blood vessels under the retina rupture. The resulting scar tissue changes your vision and the damage occurs more quickly than with dry AMD.

Smokers are three to four times more likely to develop AMD than nonsmokers. Nonsmokers living with smokers almost double their risk of developing AMD.


Cataracts occur when proteins inside the lens breaks down, causing the lens to become cloudy. It happens naturally with aging and often gets worse gradually as we get older.

Heavy smokers (15 cigarettes/day or more) have up to three times the risk of cataract as nonsmokers. Furthermore, smoking can increase your chances of developing diabetes. Cataracts related to diabetes can form much faster that age-related cataracts.


Glaucoma causes a gradual break down of the cells that make up the optic nerve. As the nerve cells die, vision is slowly lost, usually beginning with side vision. Loss of vision may not become noticeable until significant nerve damage has occurred. As many as half of those with glaucoma may be unaware that they have it.

There is a strong link between smoking and high blood pressure, cataracts and diabetes, which are all risk factors for glaucoma.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy, a common complication of diabetes, causes tiny blood vessels of the retina to break down, leak or become blocked, resulting in a gradual loss of vision. In some people with diabetic retinopathy, serious damage to the eye can occur when new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina.

Smoking can increase your chances of getting diabetes. It can also make managing diabetes more difficult for those who already have it. Complications of diabetes made worse by smoking include retinopathy, heart disease, stroke, vascular disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, foot problems and many others.

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry Eye Syndrome appears as damaged blood vessels in the eye. This can lead to eye irritation, itchy and scratchy eyes, and burning sensation of the eyes.

Dry Eye Syndrome is more than twice as likely to impact smokers as non-smokers.

Kicking the habit can significantly decrease your risk of eye disease. Many smoking cessation programs are covered by insurance and Medicaid. Talk to your doctor about what medications and programs may be best for you.

NYS Department of Health