There is truth to what the old song says “[cigarette] smoke gets in your eyes” …and it can make you blind. This is the message coming from an accumulating amount of scientific evidence. Yes, there is such as a thing as tobacco-induced blindness.
Macular degeneration also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) “is a disease that destroys your sharp, central vision. You need central vision to see objects clearly and to do tasks such as reading and driving. AMD affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail. It does not hurt, but it causes cells in the macula to die. In some cases, AMD advances so slowly that people notice little change in their vision. In others, the disease progresses faster and may lead to a loss of vision in both eyes. Regular comprehensive eye exams can detect macular degeneration before the disease causes vision loss. Treatment can slow vision loss. It does not restore vision.”
AMD comes with age and it comes faster in smokers than in non-smokers. It is the leading cause of visual impairment in the elderly. There are many risk factors involved in the onset of AMD. One main factor is genetics. Another one is cigarette smoking.
Dr. Johanna M. Seddon, director of the Epidemiology Unit, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, USA and her team looked at data from twin studies. A total of 681 male twins participated in the study by completing questionnaires, answering questions, and eye examination. The research findings are:
- 222 had intermediate and/or late-stage AMD
- 459 had no signs of AMD at all
- Those who were still smokers were 1.9 times more likely to have AMD
- Those who used to smoke were 1.7 times more likely to have AMD
- The more omega-3 rich fish they ate, the lower their likelihood of developing AMD
However, the link between smoking and AMD is not unique in the male gender. A research study by scientist at the University of California in LA (UCLA) revealed that women who are smokers are also at risk for early onset of AMD. Study leader Dr. Anne Coleman looked at data on 1958 women age 78 and older, of whom 245 were black and 1713 were white. She found that smokers are more likely to have visual impairment due to AMD than nonsmokers. The researchers recommend that people should quit smoking even at a late age to slow down the onset of blindness.
According to Dr. Seddon:
“Smoking increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration. This study of twins provides further evidence that cigarette smoking increases risk, while fish consumption and omega-3 fatty acid intake reduce risk of age-related macular degeneration… Clearly, there is a genetic predisposition to age-related macular degeneration, but that does not necessarily mean you are destined to get the disease.”
Indeed, do not all your cards on your genes. You’d be surprised at how much can lifestyle influence your predisposition to a disease.