Smoking and Your Eyes

Broken cigarettes in the shape of a banned sign

Today is National No Smoking Day 2022.

Falling each year on the second Wednesday of March since its inception in 1984, the purpose of the day is to raise awareness of the health implications of smoking – both for smokers themselves, and for friends and family members of smokers – and encourage smokers to give up the cigarettes for good.

There are some well documented benefits of giving up smoking.

The website Today is the Day cites these as:

  1. Reduce your risk of diseases caused by smoking such as cancer, diabetes, heart attack, emphysema, bronchitis and stroke. Quitting will improve your health, and reduce pressure on the NHS.
  2. Stopping smoking allows your body to repair itself – after 8 hours oxygen levels return to normal, after 2 days, your lungs start clearing out smoking debris, after 3 days breathing becomes easier and within weeks, your heart attack risk begins to drop.
  3. Protect the health of others. Exposure to secondhand smoke also increases the risk of complications from respiratory infections, especially in children. It also increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and cancer.

But did you also know that smoking can have a serious detrimental cost to the health of your eyes?

Smokers are actually two times more likely to lose their sight than non-smokers.

Smoking causes and worsens a number of eye conditions which can cause vision impairment and, in some cases, complete sight loss.


What is the relationship between smoking and eye conditions?

According to the NHS Royal Free London, smokers have an increased risk of developing:

  • Age related macular degeneration (AMD) (You’re 2 – 3.5 times more likely to get AMD if you smoke. In fact, the more you smoke, the higher your risk. With AMD the macula doesn’t work properly and your vision becomes blurred and dark in the centre.
  • Graves-disease related eye disease, which is associated with the number of cigarettes smoked per day. Graves’ disease is when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone, causing problems to many parts of the body, especially the eyes. An excess of thyroid hormone can cause protrusion of the eyes, double vision and problems to the muscles of the eyes. It can occasionally lead to permanent visual impairment.
  • Age-related cataract, which is twice as likely to occur in those who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day compared to non-smokers. A cataract is a gradual thickening and loss of transparency in the lens of the eye. The condition develops gradually as patients’ age however it can affect people in their 50s and 60s. Cataracts can be removed by surgery but they can still cause a large amount of sight loss. The formation of a cataract is thought to be accelerated due to accumulation of heavy metals, found in tobacco smoke.
  • Optic neuropathy, which smokers are 16 times more likely to develop and up to 12 years earlier than non-smokers. Optic neuropathy is a sudden loss of vision often leading to permanent blindness. It happens when the blood vessels to the eyes are completely or partially blocked.
  • Optic neuritis, which is thought to result from the lack of oxygen caused by carbon monoxide inhaled from tobacco smoke. Optic neuritis occurs when the nerve fibers in the optic nerve, that carry messages form the eye to the brain, become inflamed and results in damage to the vision. Smoking makes this condition worse and results in colour defects to the eye.
  • Diabetic retinopathy, which is an eye complication associated with diabetes in which the blood vessels that supply the retina are damaged by high blood sugar levels. When these blood vessels become damaged, they may leak fluid or blood and grow scar tissue which can distort the images the retina sends to the brain. This can eventually lead to blindness. Smoking is a significant risk factor for developing diabetic neuropathy due to a reduced supply of oxygen to the eye, with a corresponding increase in carbon monoxide. Smoking also increases blood pressure and raises blood sugar levels in diabetics, therefore making it harder to control the diabetes.
  • Contact lens problems: smokers are more likely to have problems if they wear contact lenses, such as irritation of their cornea.
  • Abnormal eye movements: Smoking is linked to nystagmus, or abnormal eye movements, which can include jerky or circular movements. Nicotine is thought to disrupt the balance centre in the brain that results in nystagmus.
  • Amblyopia is loss of vision in both eyes and ocular histoplasmosis syndrome is an inflammation of the eye. Both these diseases have a number of causes but they are both linked to smoking.

The good thing is that it has been proven that stopping smoking can reverse the effects and you immediately decrease your risk of developing these conditions.

Stopping smoking is one of the most important things you can do for your health and to protect your eyes.


If you want help with quitting, contact:


Further Reading / Sources: