Smoking and your eyesight

As a nation, we’re well aware of the risks associated with smoking. From respiratory and cardiovascular diseases to cancers and the accelerated ageing of your skin.

Less is known, however, about the many ways that smoking is damaging to one of our most precious organs: the eyes.

There are the obvious effects, like the discomfort, irritation, and dryness after spending a night in a smoke-filled club. But the way that tobacco smoke – a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals and compounds – enters your blood and can damage delicate blood vessels in your eyes is subtle and gradual and thus less often considered.

It is true that today, fewer people are smoking than ever before. A number of factors including more awareness about its dangers, regulations in public areas, the steep rise in the cost of tobacco products, and changes in advertising and purchasing laws have lead millions to kick the habit in recent years.

Yet, despite these change, still about 20 percent of adults in the UK smoke daily — with about £20 billion being spent by UK households on tobacco and cigarettes each year.

It’s clear, then, that there is still some educating to be done. So, other than making them sting and water, why exactly is smoking so bad for your vision and eyes?

The real effects of smoking on your eyes

Smoking has a very real effect on your eyes. Many studies show smoking increases the risk of eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, cataractsglaucomadiabetic retinopathy, and dry eye syndrome.

Many of these issues are irreversible, and if left untreated, can lead to serious vision loss if not blindness.

Here we’re going to take a look at the some of the most concerning eye conditions that smoking can both cause and accelerate.

Age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of visual impairment in the UK. AMD is a progressive disease with no treatment and can lead to significant vision loss or blindness. As we age, the macula, the part of the eye responsible for detailed central vision, starts to degrade. Usually, this starts to affect people in their 50s and 60s, causing vision to become blurry, especially central vision.

If you smoke, AMD can happen much quicker than normal. Studies show that smokers are two to four more times more likely than non-smokers of the same age to develop AMD. Smoking harms the tissues within the eye, meaning that they can break down at a much faster rate. In fact, smokers may develop AMD up to 10 years earlier than a non-smoker.

The risks of smoking on the rate of developing AMD aren’t just exclusive to smokers. It’s estimated that even just living with a smoker can double your risk of developing the condition.


A cataract is what happens when the natural lens inside your eye becomes frosted or clouded, causing your vision to become impaired.

Research has shown that smokers have a 42 percent greater chance of needing cataract removal than non-smokers of the same age.

The good news is that, unlike AMD, Cataracts are treatable. However, if you can avoid or at least slow down the rate at which you experience cataracts, then you would want to. Needing cataract surgery at a younger age increases the risk of things such as retinal detachment after treatment which can cause significant vision loss. So when it comes to cataract surgery – the older, the better.

Dry eye syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is an increasingly common eye condition that many people experience to some degree or another during their lifetime.

It can have many causes, from using screens for long periods, taking certain medications, or working in dry and dusty environments. One of its biggest factors, however, is smoking.

Studies show that smokers are twice as likely to suffer from chronic dry eye symptoms compared to non-smokers. The condition occurs when the eye fails to produce enough, or the right mixture, of tears to lubricate the surface or when the conditions are bad enough that the eyes cannot keep up with what is happening in the surrounding environment.

Symptoms of dry eye include redness, a gritty feeling, blurry vision, stinging, and general eye strain and discomfort. Tobacco smoke in particular breaks down the lipid layer of the eye’s tear film, leading to such symptoms and more serious effects.

As many other factors in our daily life can also contribute to dry eyes, smoking is particularly harmful. As well as being mindful of such conditions, stopping smoking can significantly reduce the symptoms of dry eye and reduce your potential of experiencing further problems in the future.

To find out more about the benefits of Laser Eye Surgery or to book your complimentary initial consultation, contact one of our friendly clinic coordinators today.