I am devoting this blog entirely to the issue of smoking since the most important thing that you can do to maintain your vision health is to stop smoking or deciding not to smoke in the first place.
We are all bombarded on a regular basis with anti-smoking messages that point out many of the ills associated with smoking. Unfortunately there is very little messaging associated with the fact that smoking can cause vision loss. This is not the case in all countries. In Australia, for example, cigarette packages have carried the message "Smoking Causes Blindness" for some time.
The most common eye disease that can be caused by smoking is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is a disease that affects the macula, the central part of the retina, which is responsible for seeing fine details, such as reading or seeing faces. About one million Canadians have some form of this disease causing some level of vision loss. I have written more extensively on AMD in a previous blog which you can access at the following link: http://blog.cnib.ca/archive/2011/12/15/age-related-macular-degeneration-amd.aspx
Current smokers have up to four times the risk of developing AMD compared to non-smokers or past smokers. Smokers may also develop the disease about 10 years earlier than non-smokers. How much you smoke also affects your risk of acquiring AMD. People who smoke more have a higher risk of acquiring AMD than those who smoke less. So what happens if you quit smoking? It has been shown that your risk will decrease for every year you stay off cigarettes, so that after 20 years your risk is no higher than someone who has never smoked.
In case all of this is not sufficient to make you want to quit smoking, it should be noted that smoking can also increase the risk of developing cataracts, an eye disease that entails the clouding of the eye's natural lens and can lead to serious vision loss. Fortunately, cataracts can be operated on surgically and vision restored in most cases. Smokers are two to three times more likely to develop cataracts than non-smokers.
A recent study conducted in Britain showed that fewer than 10% of people who participated in the study were aware that smoking could cause blindness and about half the people who were smokers said that they would quit smoking if they developed early signs of blindness. Another recent study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology showed that most teenagers did not know that smoking could cause blindness. When told, 90% said that they would quit at the first sign of a problem.
The evidence is clear that cigarette smoking increases the risk of blindness. Perhaps it's time to add the words "Smoking Causes Blindness" to cigarette packages in Canada as they have done in Australia. It would be hoped that this would increase awareness of the danger that smoking has to one's sight and would thereby result in many more people not smoking.
This Blog is not intended to take the place of good medical advice. Since all medical situations are individual, it is important that you always consult your eye doctor regarding your eye condition and your personal physician regarding your general health and any diet, exercise program or smoking cessation program you undertake.