In the United States, there are an approximately 45 million adults who smoke tobacco cigarettes. Another approximately 126 million Americans are non-smokers that are routinely exposed to secondhand smoke. Smoke from tobacco cigarettes contains up to 4000 chemicals. The majority of these chemicals are toxic. The single most recognized one may be carbon monoxide, a molecule that has a higher affinity than oxygen for iron in red blood cells. Its presence crowds out oxygen and, in a sense, breathing carbon monoxide is a form of chemical suffocation.
Other chemicals found in this smoke include cadmium, methanol, toluene, ammonia and acetic acid. Translated into laymen’s terms, that includes: a poisonous metal, often used in making batteries; a chemical used to make rocket fuel; a powerful solvent that can be used as a paint thinner or for other industrial applications; a toxic household cleaner; and vinegar. Additionally, cigarette smoke contains nicotine, butane, methane and arsenic. These can also be thought of as an insecticide, lighter fluid, sewer gas, and a well-known poison.
Unsurprisingly, breathing this mixture of chemicals is not good for one’s health. Most people are aware smoking harms the lungs. However, for some people, it comes as something of a surprise that smoking also does bad things to the eyes.
People living with a smoker are 2 times more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD). People who smoke are up to 4 times more likely to go blind when they are old and this may be related to another statistic: Women over the age of 80 who smoke are more than 5 times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers of the same age.
Age-related macular degeneration is a disease of the central part of the retina, called the macula. This is the part of the eye that allows people to see directly ahead and also to see fine levels of detail. It is the most delicate part of the retina. Before age 65, it begins to deteriorate in 25% of the general population. After age 80, 33% of people are impacted by it. It typically affects both eyes, although it may be worse in one eye. AMD can cause loss of vision to varying degrees. It is the number one cause of legal blindness in older Americans.
Smoking is known to cause harm to eye tissue. It has been directly associated with roughly one in four cases of either severe vision loss or blindness due to AMD. Not only that, but it has been established that smoking more further increases the risk of developing AMD.
AMD is far from being the only thing a smoker needs to worry about. Smokers are also known to have twice the risk of developing cataracts. While AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the elderly, cataracts are the overall leading cause of vision loss. Additionally, uveitis, or inflammation of the uvea, occurs more than twice as often in smokers than in non-smokers.
Damage to the Eyes Due to Second-hand Smoke
Some portion of the 126 million non-smoking Americans who routinely inhale secondhand smoke are children. Often, their exposure to second-hand smoke is through their smoking parents. Those parents are responsible for the welfare of their kids. Kids that are exposed to secondhand smoke develop allergic conjunctivitis 20% more often than other kids.
When the smoker is pregnant, their unborn child is not only more directly exposed to cigarette smoke, but is exposed during a particularly vulnerable time. Pregnant moms who smoke are at increased risk of giving birth prematurely. In addition to the general health problems caused by premature birth, pregnant smokers increase the risk of two specific eye conditions in their unborn child: strabismus and retinopathy of prematurity.
Smoking is bad for your eyes and the eyes of your loved ones.
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