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Say 'Eye Quit' for Stoptober

We all know that smoking is bad for our health, but many are unaware that it can be damaging to our eyesight too. A recent survey by the Macular Society found that more than half (53 per cent) of UK adults were unaware that smoking can cause blindness.

The toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage the delicate surface and internal structure of the eye, which can increase your risk of eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the UK’s leading cause of sight loss – as well as nuclear cataracts, thyroid eye disease, dry eye and poor colour vision. The link between smoking and sight loss is as strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer.

David Cartwright, Chair of Eye Health UK, comments: “Any amount of smoking, even light, occasional or second-hand, can affect your eye health and increase your chances of suffering sight-threatening eye diseases. “Half of all sight loss in the UK is avoidable and smoking is the single biggest modifiable risk factor. Saying ‘eye quit’ and joining one of the free NHS cessation programmes will improve your eye health and significantly reduce your risk of losing your sight. After a decade or so being smoke free your risk of sight loss reduces to that of a non-smoker.”

Statistics reveal that smokers are up to four times more likely to have AMD than non-smokers and are more likely to suffer the condition earlier than non-smokers. Smokers are also likely to experience a more rapid progression of AMD and poorer treatment outcomes.

In addition, smoking increases your risk of developing cataracts as tobacco toxins cause oxidative damage to the lens proteins; the risk of nuclear cataracts (those that form in the centre of the lens) is three times greater in smokers.

Smoking increases your risk of thyroid eye disease by up to eight times and can increase the severity of symptoms.

Smoking cigarettes has also been found to increase the risk of dry eye syndrome and can exacerbate existing eye conditions.

Smoking is linked to other eye conditions, including diabetic retinopathy and uveitis – an inflammation of the eye’s middle layer, or uvea, that can result in complete vision loss.

There is also growing evidence that cigarettes impair colour vision; smokers who consume more than 20 cigarettes per day may suffer colour vision defects.

Worryingly, the pandemic has had a significant impact on the number of smokers here in the UK; a study funded by Cancer Research UK found that hundreds of thousands more people smoked compared to before the pandemic hit. There was a 25 per cent rise in 18- to 34-year-olds who smoke – resulting in more than 652,000 new smokers.

It’s not all bad news though, as the research also found increases in the number of smokers quitting successfully. Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s Chief Executive, said: “There’s no ‘safe’ level of smoking or drinking, and stopping smoking or cutting down drinking will help to reduce your risk of cancer.”

It’s never too late to stop smoking, quitting at any age can reduce your risk of developing many sight-threatening eye
conditions. It’s time to take care of not only your eyes but your overall health too; it’s time to stub it out for good and say eyequit.

Help to quit…

In England:
■ Smokefree (nhs.uk/betterhealth/quit-smoking)
■ Call the Smokefree National Helpline on 0300 123 1044

In Scotland:
Quit Your Way is a free NHS stop smoking service. To find out more information on stop smoking services, call the Quit Your Way Helpline Service on 0800 84 84 84 or visit QuitYourWay.scot.

In Wales:
■ Help me quit
■ Call the free Stop Smoking Wales Helpline on 0800 085 2219

In Northern Ireland:
■ Want to stop
■ See local support services for telephone support

Or visit your local pharmacy for more advice on quitting and local smoking cessation services.


Published : October 2021