Macular Week 2017: How does smoking affect sight loss?

Macular Week is on the horizon, taking place from 26 June to 2 July. As always, the week will aim to promote eye health and encourage people to look after their vision with this year’s theme focusing specifically on how smoking impacts eye health.

When it comes to smoking, eyesight may not be the first health concern to spring to mind. While the links between smoking and heart and lung diseases are well known, many of us are unaware of how smoking can permanently damage our eye health. However, Eye Health UK has estimated that smokers are four times more likely to lose their sight than non-smokers.

How does smoking damage sight?

According to Eye Health UK, the relationship between smoking and sight loss is just as strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer – so it is fundamental that we start raising awareness to help encourage smokers to quit now.

The damage caused by smoking can cause conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, glaucoma and dry eye syndrome to develop. When you smoke, the chemicals which make up tobacco, like arsenic, formaldehyde and ammonia, lead to oxidative stress. In turn, oxidants in the eye are increased which narrows the blood vessels and damages macula structure.

In particular, narrowed blood vessels can lead to wet AMD. The Macular Society suggests smokers are up to four times more likely than non-smokers to develop AMD, and smokers with a genetic predisposition to AMD are eight times more likely to get the disease.

With wet AMD, an inadequate supply of oxygen to the blood vessels caused by smoking means they can become damaged, leaking fluid or blood into the macula. This type of AMD is difficult to treat and accounts for 90% of severe vision loss from the condition.

Similarly, the tar in cigarettes contributes towards the risk of the more common form of the condition – dry AMD. This occurs when tar triggers the formation of ‘drusen deposits’ under the retina, which if untreated can lead to visual impairment or even sight loss.

Smoking can also contribute to other internal and external eye conditions, so it is important to be aware of the potential affects and – put bluntly – quit now! Smoking is the most controllable risk factor when it comes to AMD, as well as many other eye conditions, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer – so quitting at any stage of your life can help to improve your eye health in the longer term.

For more information on AMD risk factors and how understanding these can improve rates of screening, take a look at our recent Whitepaper – Age-related macular degeneration: the case for early screening.

How to take part in Macular Week 2017

The best way to raise awareness is to get involved, and there are plenty of ways to take part in this year’s Macular Week.

If you want to fundraise, the Macular Society have heaps of ideas on how you can raise money. These include charity quiz nights, wear yellow days or, really simply, giving up smoking for sponsorship!

Various promotional materials are also available for awareness display tables or other events during Macular Week, so do get in touch with the Macular Society if you’d like to get involved and help build awareness during the week.

The Society is also keen to speak to anyone affected by AMD who used to smoke. So if you’d be happy to share your story, contact Felicity Crump on felicity.crump@macularsociety.org or 01264 321 987.

Another great way to get involved is to have your say throughout the week on Twitter with the hashtag #EyeTold. We’ll also be getting involved to help raise awareness, so be sure to follow us @ElektronEyeTech to stay up-to-date throughout the week.

We look forward to hearing about what you get up to – let us know on Twitter and we’ll help boost your fundraising!