WARNING: Smoking Is Bad For Your Sight

I have an aunt who smokes like a chimney. In her youth she was a very beautiful model and I recall staying with her for a holiday when I was fourteen. In addition to developing a taste for pink wine, it was the summer that I also learned to smoke.

We sat in front of her bedroom mirror and, after I had experimented with her make up and dressing up in her fabulous clothes , she showed me how to hold a cigarette in the side of my mouth (never at the front as that was “common”) and to tilt my head “just so” as I exhaled.

Of course, like everyone’s first cigarette, it made me feel sick. But I persevered and during the course of that summer and under my aunt’s expert guidance with the lure of sophisticated adulthood beckoning, I became hooked.

Fortunately, eventually (through numerous distinctly unglamorous sinus infections and bouts of tonsillitis), I saw the error of my ways and eventually managed to “unhook”  myself.

But my beautiful auntie never did.

Today – alongside her breathlessness (which is no longer girlie, sexy or charming), a husky voice and throaty cough(ditto), and additional wrinkles, she also has age related macular degeneration.

Ahead of my meeting with Prof Marshall at St Thomas’, I felt the need to find out more about this little discussed condition which would probably affect all of us to some degree should we live long enough.

Firstly I learned that the eye condition AMD –  although severely damaging to the sight, is not a disease that leads to total blindness. Ultimately sufferers lose their central vision –meaning that they cannot recognise faces and are unable to read or drive, for instance . They will, however, retain some very limited peripheral vision

There are two forms of the disease: the “wet” and the “dry”. The latter is more common (with five out of six cases falling into this bracket) and is slower to develop. Although some anti-oxidants (which we should probably all be including in our diet anyway) have possibly been shown to have a small beneficial effect on its progress, ahead of Prof Marshall´s development, there is as yet no treatment or cure.

The “wet” version is more serious and leads to sight deterioration much more quickly. Treatments for this condition have been developed in the last five years and currently appear to help delay its progress in approximately 40% of cases.

There are no early warning symptoms and the condition is only detected (in its early stages) by a detailed eye examination of the retina. (Another reason to have regular eye exams whether you wear glasses or not.)

So what can we do to make sure that we don´t become another AMD statistic?

Dr Dan is in no doubt.

“Number one –stop smoking

“Number two – stop smoking and

“Number three – don’t smoke!”

“What about passive smoking?” I ask

“It’s the same”, is his simple but very significant reply.

I have discovered that the debilitating symptoms of AMD are caused by a build up of tiny particles of debris in the blood vessels which feed the retina and the macular.

As we get older – and aggravated by conditions such as Diabetes and the pollutants of every day life (including cigarettes) – the ability to refresh and drain away this debris slowly breaks down.

In my over simplistic non-medical manner – I imagine lots of tiny drains getting blocked by a break down in their flushing system. The build up of all this waste ultimately leads to the degeneration of the macular and the sight starts to suffer.

Prof Marshall’s  “retinal regeneration therapy” laser reaches these crucial clearing and pumping cells giving them a “nudge” to wake them up and get back to work clearing out all the accumulated muck, and so improving the sight.

As well as reversing the onset of AMD, this new laser could also prevent it from ever happening in the first place.

It could be, in the not too distant future, that a simple “tickle” of these old and tired cells at the back of the eye, will become a commonplace anti aging technique … as usual as a jab of Botox but without its side effects.

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