‘Smoking linked to sight loss’

Smokers are more likely to develop a serious eye disease and put others at risk through passive smoking, writes Yvonne Gordon

Leading UK eye health charity RNIB is backing research which claims there is a strong link between smoking and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Support is growing across eyecare professions for warnings to appear on tobacco products linking smoking and blindness.

The RNIB have worked closely with the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) and others and changes to labels on tobacco products are now expected.

RNIB eye health adviser Sonal Rughani says: “The link between smoking and AMD is similar to the lung cancer and smoking risk, and both risks reduce on stopping smoking.”

New research into public attitudes towards eye health from the College of Optometrists (COptom) reveals that many smokers are unaware smoking has links to eye disease.

COptom optometric adviser Dr Susan Blakeney says: “Smoking is the prime modifiable risk in AMD. But few smokers are aware of this. Prevention is key. Quitting now can reduce risk of AMD, the leading cause of blindness, which should be a huge incentive for smokers to stop.”

Boots Opticians optometrist Carolyn Norman adds: “Smoking can cause dry eyes and may also increase cataract risk, both common eye disorders.”

Cathy Yelf, of the Macular Disease Society, says: “The macula is very vulnerable to cigarette smoke, which contains many noxious compounds including tar. Smoking reduces the retina’s anti-oxidant levels, blood flow and protective pigments. It’s vital young people know about sight risks if they start smoking.’

According to Simon Kelly, RCOphth spokesman and consultant ophthalmic surgeon, from Bolton: “Smokers, including passive smokers, are at least twice as likely to develop AMD as non-smokers and at an earlier age. Furthermore, if you have a genetic predisposition to AMD you greatly increase this risk by smoking. Animal and other studies provide increasing evidence. Thyroid eye-disease is also strongly linked to smoking.

“In a study we undertook in nightclubs we found that many young smokers are unaware they could be smoking their sight away.”