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The effects of smoking on your vision

We're all aware of the dangers smoking causes to our lungs, throat, and heart, but you shouldn't overlook the harmful effects it can have on your eyes. In severe cases, eye diseases caused by smoking and tobacco usage can even lead to complete vision loss. 

When inhaled, the toxins found in cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and other tobacco products find their way to the bloodstream and eventually to the cells in the smoker's eyes. These toxic chemicals lead to a wide range of eye issues, like dry eye, nerve damage and more serious eye problems like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In fact, according to the CDC, smokers are two to three times more likely to develop cataracts and twice as likely to develop AMD than non-smokers.

What eye problems are caused by smoking?

To better understand the harm smoking has on your eyesight, here are some common vision problems that are more likely to affect those who light up.

Dry eye syndrome 

Any smoke in the air will cause the eye to be irritated, and since smokers are regularly exposed to smoke, they're more likely to suffer from dry eyes. Contact lens wearers are considered even more susceptible to dry eye syndrome because the smoke exhalation and toxins near their eyes can affect the ability to lubricate the lenses and eye's surface properly. While eye drops can help remedy dry eyes caused by smoke, the best measure is to quit smoking altogether. 

Optic nerve damage

The optic nerve sends information from the eye to the brain – smoking reduces the blood flow to these microscopic nerves resulting in vascular damage that may lead to vision loss. A long-term study has also found that heavy smokers are more likely to have worse cases of glaucoma than their non-smoking counterparts. 


The most common cause of vision loss, cataracts are formed when the clear part of the eye's lens becomes clouded. This clouding blocks light from passing into the retina, causing blurry vision that requires surgery to correct. Smoking increases the risk of developing cataracts at about three times the standard rate compared to those who don't smoke. Learn more about other potential causes and treatments of cataracts here. 

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

Smoking can be a major contributor to early-onset age-related macular degeneration. Studies have shown that smoking speeds up the progression of AMD up to 10 years earlier in smokers than those who refrain. When a person develops AMD, the cells in the eye's macula begin to deteriorate, leading to blurry central vision, muted colours, and irreversible sight loss.

Eye discolouration

Smoke emitted from cigarettes and tobacco can also affect the external features of the eyes. Since the skin tissue around your eyes is more sensitive, it can easily become inflamed and puffy, which can cause reddish or yellow colouring around your eyes and even yellowish tinting in the (sclera) white of your eyes.  

In addition to the reaction to smoke itself, nicotine also disrupts sleep patterns which can result in poor sleep and dark circles under your eyes.

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Can quitting smoking improve your vision?

Quitting smoking won't reverse any optic nerve or macula damage caused by the habit, but it will put you in a better position to slow down the progression and reduce further harm to your eyesight. It may take a while to undo the other harm caused by years of smoking, but stopping and allowing the eyes to heal at their own pace will certainly benefit your eye health in the long run.

Save your sight – quit smoking to protect your eyes

If you are a smoker, even though it might be extremely difficult due to the addictive nature of nicotine, the best way to protect your long-term vision is to quit smoking altogether. If that isn't feasible, the next best option is to reduce the number of cigarettes or time spent smoking that you normally do on a regular basis.  

In addition to cutting smoking, other healthy habits to help protect your eyes from disease and vision loss are:

  • Eat a healthy diet with rich antioxidant foods 
  • Exercise regularly and stay active 
  • Control healthy levels of cholesterol and normal blood pressure 
  • Protect your eyes from harmful sun rays with UV-blocking sunglasses 
  • Schedule regular eye tests 

If you want to quit smoking or need help taking the first step to ditch the unhealthy habit, please get in touch with your GP for professional advice or visit this NHS website to start your journey on a smoke-free lifestyle.

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