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Smoking can lead to blindness


When I was 12 my mum took me to visit the hospital ward she nursed on. Not to encourage me into a career in medicine but solely to meet her patients who were suffering from throat and mouth cancer. The purpose? To put me off ever smoking. Did it work? Of course it did. Thanks to my lovely mum and her willing tracheotomy patients I’ve never even been tempted by a cigarette.
I only remembered this story last Saturday night when talking to a good friend of ours. He’d recently been to see Alisdair for an eye examination and his OCT eye scan revealed the earliest stages of macular damage, most likely caused by decades of smoking. If he continues to smoke, in another 20 years this is likely to turn into macular degeneration which means he will be faced with deteriorating central vision before he even retires- scary stuff. The good news is that he’s an intelligent man and has already made the decision that this is the motivation he needed to finally make him stop.


As a close friend, I wondered why Alisdair or I had not advised him of the risks to his vision from smoking before. There are 2 reasons for this 1) We don’t like lecturing people 2) We naively assumed that everyone knew the impact of smoking on your eyes. We were wrong, a quick poll amongst our friends in the pub revealed a good knowledge of lung cancer and circulatory problems but the effect on eyesight was pretty misunderstood. When they knew the facts, the smokers we talked to also seemed far more concerned about going blind than developing lung problems.
So here it is, not as a lecture, but if during this Stoptober you need a little inspiration to quit, these are the facts to help you make an informed decision.

Why does smoking damage eyes?
Cigarette smoke contains 4,500 chemicals including arsenic, formaldehyde and ammonia. These chemicals are transported to the delicate tissues of the eye through the bloodstream, where they damage the structure of the cells. Repeatedly exposing delicate cells to these chemicals is effectively fast-forwarding the ageing process.
Cigarette smoke increases blood pressure and damages the tiny blood vessels in the eye, reducing the amount of oxygen reaching the retina.
Research suggests that the tar in cigarettes triggers the formation of deposits in the retina (drusen), which mark the start of macular degeneration.
Some research suggests that smokers have lower levels of the macular pigments lutein and zeaxanthin. These are antioxidant substances in the macula that are thought to protect it from the damaging effects of sunlight.
So here’s the good news for our friend.
Research shows that if you stop smoking today,  in 20 years you will have no significantly greater risk of AMD or cataracts than a non-smoker.
Stopping smoking can halt or reverse damage to the eyes (depending on the severity and type of disease).
Eating a healthy diet with plenty of leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach and broccoli will boost your lutein and zeaxanthin macular pigment levels and help reduce your chance of macular degeneration. A supplement such as Macushield can help to boost your anti oxidants. Macushield supplements are safe for smokers and ex-smokers. (Smokers need to be careful what supplements they take as ones containing beta-carotene can increase lung cancer risk.)
If you need help to stop smoking please talk to your GP or find out more about quitting smoking by clicking here.
If, like us, you have a friend who doesn’t know the effect smoking is having on their eyes please forward them this link and help them to maintain good eyesight for life.
Good luck to our friend and anyone else who is trying to quit.