The Effects of Smoking on Your Eye Health

Cigarette butt on the floor

Cigarette butt on the floor

How Smoking Affects Your Eyes

Smoking increases the likelihood of developing many types of health issues, including conditions and diseases that may affect your vision. If you are a smoker or live with someone who smokes, your eye health may be at risk.

7 Diseases and Conditions Related to Smoking

Smoking can cause several eye-related problems, including:

  • Diabetic Retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy, one of the most devastating effects of diabetes, can rob you of your eyesight. The condition damages the tiny blood vessels in your retina, the layer of the light-sensing cells at the back of your eye. The vessels begin to leak fluid or blood, causing symptoms ranging from blurred vision to night vision problems to blind or dark spots in your visual field. A change in blood flow may be responsible in part for the changes. In a study published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, retinal blood flow and blood velocity were lower in chronic smokers who had type 2 diabetes.
  • Cataracts. Your smoking habit may cause cataracts to form in your eyes. Cataracts occur when the normally clear lens inside the eye becomes cloudy. The eye condition can cause blurred vision, halos around lights, glare, poor night vision, and faded colors. Swedish researchers discovered that men who smoked more than 15 cigarettes a day had a 42 percent increased risk of cataract surgery. Men who once smoked more than 15 cigarettes a day but had quit smoking more than 20 years earlier still had a 21 percent higher risk than non-smokers.
  • Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). AMD affects the macula, the area of the retina responsible for central and color vision. Cell deterioration is responsible for the "dry" form of AMD, while leaking blood vessels cause vision problems in the "wet" form. If you have AMD, you may notice blurred vision, blind spots in the center of your vision, faded colors, distortions, or straight lines that appear wavy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that smokers are twice as likely to develop the condition as non-smokers.
  • Uveitis. Smoking may increase your risk of a painful eye disease that can cause vision loss. Inflammation of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye, can cause redness, eye pain, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and floaters.
  • Thyroid Eye Disease (TED). Smokers are more likely to get TED and may not respond to treatment as well as non-smokers. TED, also known as Grave's disease, causes bulging eyes, redness, pain, and dry eye. If the disease isn't treated promptly, swelling may damage the optic nerve.
  • Difficulty Seeing Colors. Color vision problems may also be a consequence of smoking, according to researchers at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Their study detailed how smoking affected blue-yellow and red-green vision and explored the difficulty heavy smokers had when trying to distinguish between certain colors and contrasts.
  • Dry Eye. Smoking affects the tear film of your eyes and may cause dry, painful red eyes. Although dry eye may seem like a minor problem, you may be more likely to develop abrasions and ulcers in your cornea, the clear layer of tissue that covers the iris and pupil, if dry eye is a frequent problem.

You don't have to be a smoker to experience eye health issues. Exposure to secondhand smoke may increase your likelihood of developing dry eye, AMD, and other eye conditions and diseases.

What About Vaping?

Vaping may not produce noxious smoke, but it's not any safer for your eyes than smoking cigarettes or cigars. Although more studies need to be done on the effects of vaping, the habit can dry the eyes and may increase your risk of developing macular degeneration. In addition to nicotine, the chemicals used to flavor e-cigarettes may also cause eye issues.

If you're a smoker, live or work with a smoker, or have smoked in the past, yearly eye examinations are particularly important. Contact our office to schedule your appointment.


JAMA Ophthalmology: Smoking Cessation and Risk of Cataracts, 3/14

Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science: Effects of Habitual Cigarette Smoking on Retinal Circulation in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes, 3/16

All About Vision: Vaping, Like Smoking, May Harm Your Eyes, 10/19

All About Vision: How Smoking Harms Your Eyes

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey: Heavy Smoking Can Damage Vision, Rutgers Researcher Finds, 2/18/19

CDC: Vision Loss, Blindness, and Smoking

American Academy of Ophthalmology: Smoking and Eye Disease, 1/16/20


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