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Smoke gets in your eyes - one in five cases of UK's leading cause of sight loss linked to smoking

As part of National Eye Health Week optometrists today (25 September 2016) warned that the relationship between smoking and sight loss is as strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer and urged smokers take up the Stoptober challenge [1].

According to research published in the British Medical Journal[2] as many as one in five cases of Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), the UK’s leading cause of blindness, are caused by tobacco consumption. This means smoking is currently responsible for around 120,000 cases of AMD[3].

David Cartwright, chair of National Eye Health Week explains: “Despite there being a stronger link between AMD and smoking, than lung cancer and smoking Britain’s seven million smokers are largely unaware of the dangers. Fewer than 10% realise smoking can affect their eye health. This compares to 92% associating smoking with lung cancer and 87% identifying a link between smoking and the risk of heart disease[4].

Omar Hassan Head of Professional Services at Vision Express continues: “Smokers are up to four times more likely to suffer AMD than non-smokers and are likely to suffer from the condition earlier than non- smokers.”

Research shows the average age for a non- smoker to develop AMD is 74.4 years of age, five years later than smokers whose average age is 69.2 years[5]. Smokers are also likely to experience a more rapid progression of AMD and poorer treatment outcomes.

Tobacco smoke is composed of as many as 4,000 active compounds, which can damage the delicate surface and the internal structure of the eye.

Smokers are also at increased risk of other eye conditions such as nuclear cataracts; thyroid eye disease; dry eye and poor colour vision.

David Cartwright comments: “Having regular sight tests, once every two years unless advised otherwise by your optometrist, is vital for everyone but never more so than for smokers. Early detection of conditions such as AMD is essential to prevent avoidable sight loss.”

Eye health maps produced by National Eye Heath Week in conjunction with Vision Express have revealed hotspots of the UK where levels of smoking are high and uptake of sight tests are low leaving residents at increased risk of sight loss.

These hotspots include: The London Boroughs of Newham and Tower Hamlets, Birmingham, Knowsley, Cwm Taf, South Tynside, Corby, Bradford and Hull.

Omar Hassan concludes: “However there is some good news – if a patient stops smoking the risk of losing sight decreases over time so the sooner they stop the better for their vision. If you smoke why not try quitting during Stoptober. It could just save your sight.”


#20Ways smoking can affect your eye health

#1 Tobacco smoke causes biological changes in your eyes that can lead to poor eye health and loss of vision

#2 Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 toxic chemicals that enter your eyes & increase your risk of sight loss by up to four times

#3 Tobacco chemicals damage the tiny blood vessels inside your eyes causing blockages and internal bleeding

#4 Tobacco chemicals interfere with the production of your tears – the tear film is important because it keeps the front of your eye healthy and helps your eyes focus clearly

#5 Smoking causes oxidative stress and damages your retina

#6 Tobacco reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches your macula. The macula is the part of the eye responsible for central, high-resolution vision

#7 Smoking is a key risk factor for Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), the UK’s leading cause of blindness in the UK

#8 Research published in the British Medical Journal[6] suggests 1 in 5 cases of AMD are caused by tobacco consumption

#9 On average smokers develop AMD five years earlier than non-smokers

#10 Smoking is a major risk factor in the development of cataracts

#11 The risk of nuclear cataracts is three times greater in smokers than non-smokers

#12 Smoking is a significant risk factor for developing diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is one of the top five causes of sight loss in the UK

#13 Smoking increases your risk of dry eye syndrome – the leading cause of eye irritation in over 65s

#14 Smoking is associated with the development of thyroid eye disease (TED). Smokers are up to 8 times more likely to suffer from this potentially sight threatening condition which affects up to 400,000 people in UK[7]

#15 Smokers have increased prevalence of colour vision deficiency

#16 Nicotine poisoning can make it difficult to clearly distinguish colours with a red or green hue

#17 Smokers are twice as likely to suffer Uveitis – a painful inflammation of the middle layer of the eye ­– than non-smokers

#18 Smoking increases the risk of contact lens wearers suffering corneal ulcers. If left untreated corneal ulcers can lead to severe vision loss and even loss of the eye

#19 Smoking in pregnancy affects the development of your unborn baby and increases the risk of your child having a squint

#20 It’s not just your eyes that suffer. Secondhand smoke increases the risk of your loved-ones suffering sight loss


For help and advice on how to quit visit



[2] British Medical Journal, Vol. 328, S. 537

[3] Calculated using Macular Society AMD prevalence data

[4] Perceptions of blindness related to smoking: a hospital- based cross-sectional study, G Bidwell et al.

[5] Ronald Klien et al, Arch Ophthalmol. 2008;126(1): 115-121

[6] British Medical Journal, Vol. 328, S. 537

[7] Estimate taken from National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)


Published : 25 September 2016