Smoking can lead to ‘permanent sight loss’

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A new study has found that smokers could develop age-related macular degeneration up to five-and-a-half years earlier thanks to their habit.

The study has been led by a team from the WHO (World Health Organisation), Newcastle University, and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB)

Head of Knowledge at the IAPB, Jude Stern, said: “Smoking increases your risk of developing serious eye conditions and permanent sight loss. Quitting smoking and having regular eye tests can help improve eye health and prevent avoidable sight loss.”

Alongside increasing one’s risk of age-related macular degeneration, the brief from the trio says that tobacco use can also increase the risk of develop cataracts; these are hard to treat with only surgery available to help those affected.

In a statement on their website, the WHO said: “Around 94 million people globally have moderate or severe distance vision impairment or blindness due to unaddressed cataracts.”
How does smoking lead to sight loss?

It’s all to do with the chemicals and toxins produced. If the body enters a sustained period of exposure to harmful chemicals these will ultimately lead to harm.

Because smoking sends fumes around the body, this means it can also reach the exposed eyes and the tissue underneath.

The RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) said: “Smoking causes harm to the tissues of the eye. Research has confirmed the harmful effects of smoking on eyesight, particularly in the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.”

They added: “Smokers double their risk of developing AMD, and tend to develop it earlier than non-smokers. Treatment options for AMD are limited. Stopping smoking can reduce the risk of macular degeneration developing.”

What about e-cigarettes?

While known to cause less harm than traditional forms of smoking, e-cigarettes don’t cause zero harm to the body.

The WHO said: “E-cigarette flavours may increase the production of free radicals, which damage DNA, which can lead to cataracts.

“The use of e-cigarettes may reduce blood flow to the eyes, alter retinal function and lead to an increased risk of developing eye cancer.”

As a result, even those who have made the switch to vaping are not out of the sight loss danger zone.

What are the main symptoms?

The mains signs of age-related macular degeneration include sight loss in the middle of the eye, or vision which is blurred or distorted.

Other symptoms include seeing straight lines as wavy or crooked, objects looking smaller than usual, colours seeming less bright than they used to, and hallucinations, says the NHS.

The condition itself is not painful, and can be detected during a routine eye test.

Treatment for AMD depends on the type of AMD, whether it is wet or dry.

Dry AMD is caused by the build up of a fatty substance known as drusen at the back of the eye; there is no treatment for this form of AMD.

Meanwhile, wet AMD is caused by the build up of abnormal blood vessels at the back of the eyes; this can be treated through eye injections and a light treatment to stop sight getting worse.

There is also research underway into new treatments for both forms of AMD in the hope that it may help those affected by the condition in the future.

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