Don't Let Smoke Get in Your Eyes
SATURDAY, Dec. 2 (HealthScout) -- You may get more than smoke in your eyes when you light up a cigarette.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) says studies now show smoking can damage your vision, and it has launched a campaign to tell people about those dangers.
The AOA says smoking triples the risk of macular degeneration, a serious eye disease that is the primary cause of vision loss in older Americans.
Macular degeneration occurs in the macula, which is the central part of the retina responsible for perceiving fine visual detail. The macula contains light-sensing cells, called photoreceptors, which convert light into electrical impulses and then send those impulses to the brain along the optic nerve. The loss of vision occurs when these photoreceptor cells degenerate. People with macular degeneration experience blurring, distortion and blind spots.
"Within the last three to four years, a number of studies have come out that link smoking with macular degeneration," says Daniel Bintz, an optometrist and a member of the AOA's public health and disease prevention committee.
"[Macular degeneration] is typically an age-related thing, and up until a few years ago they thought there wasn't a whole heck of a lot you could do for it," Bintz says.
But he says research now shows antioxidants seem to slow down macular degeneration. That's where smoking has an impact because it robs your body of antioxidants.
Smoking does seem to be strongly associated with macular degeneration in some studies, says Lorie Ellis, science program manager for the Foundation Fighting Blindness, a nonprofit medical research group focused on finding treatments and cures for retinal degenerative diseases.
Ellis says there have been no scientific studies that pinpoint why smoking is linked to macular degeneration, "but in almost every epidemiological study published, smoking has been identified as a significant risk factor for the disease."
She agrees that smoking depletes the body of antioxidants, and there is evidence that antioxidants help stall macular degeneration.
It doesn't stop there.
Bintz says smoking may increase the risk of cataracts, and have other impacts through its link to high blood pressure and diabetes. Both conditions can pose a threat to your vision.
All this made the AOA wonder if it was doing enough to warn eye patients about the risks of smoking.
"It just seemed like a no-brainer," Bintz says.
But the AOA effort goes beyond simply giving people brochures and telling them they shouldn't smoke. It wants optometrists to help their patients find the resources and support they need to quit smoking.
That's especially important in rural areas where there may be no hospital or health clinic with a smoking cessation program, Bintz says.
"A lot of these people are on their own," he explains. "Where do they go if they run into roadblocks and how can we avoid that?"