Deepak Chopra, MDHealth Blog - Wellness

Weekly Health Tip: It's Hard to See Through the Smoke

Published on 2011-04-04 by Deepak Chopra, MD

We all know that smoking causes cancer, cardiovascular disease, and multiple respiratory illnesses. Does anyone really need another reason to quit? Okay, here's one: To save your vision. Surprised? In addition to the well-known, systemic illnesses that kill hundreds of thousands every year, smokers have a higher risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts. The macula is the central visual field of the eye's retina, the layer of tissue at the back of the eye that sends visual information to the brain. Everyone's risk of macular degeneration increases with age, but smoking increases the risk of macular degeneration two- to three-fold compared with the risk for those who have never smoked. Smoking increases blood pressure in the eye's small vessels and depresses antioxidant levels and immune reactions—all believed to be involved in macular degeneration. Heavy smokers also have a three-fold increase in their risk of developing cataracts, clouding over of the eye's lens. Doctors believe the toxins in smoke cause damage to the proteins in the lens cells. People with cataracts have blurry, clouded vision and eventually must have their lenses removed or replaced.

Quit smoking, and your eyes will thank you. An in-depth study of smoking and eye health in Wisconsin, The Beaver Dam Eye Study, yielded some eye-opening results. Those who quit smoking for at least five years had about the same risk of developing macular degeneration as those who had never smoked at all. In another study, former smokers who had quit at least 10 years earlier had a risk of cataracts 21 to 17 percent lower than those subjects who currently smoked. If you do smoke, it is important to be honest about your smoking habits with your ophthalmologist. That way, he or she can watch carefully for signs of cataracts and macular degeneration. Your eye doctor will encourage you to quit smoking, of course. Has any reader successfully quit? If so, we invite you to share the strategies of your success in the comments!

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Learn more about smoking cessation: Cigarettes—Not Many is Too Many

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