How Smoking and Vaping Impact Your Eyes

Oct 27, 2021

October is Healthy Lung Month, and most people know that the biggest threat to healthy lungs is smoking. However, fewer people know about the negative effects that smoking and vaping have on eye health. Keep reading to learn how smoking and vaping could be impacting your eyes.

Smoking vs. vaping

Decades of research prove that smoking damages overall health, including eye health. It will take decades for the same volume of research to be conducted on vaping due to the recency of the trend. Yet, what we already know about vaping demonstrates that it too can be seriously detrimental to eye health. Though often marketed as a safer substitute for cigarettes, vaping is anything but safe.

Vision problems from smoking cigarettes are not just caused by tobacco, but other chemicals that are also found in e-cigs. Smoking and vaping both often contain formaldehyde, nicotine, and diacetyl. Formaldehyde can damage DNA and cause cancer; it is a possible carcinogen, but it is also proven to irritate the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs. Diacetyl, which is used to flavor many e-cigarettes, can cause fatal lung disease. Nicotine, the addictive chemical in cigarettes and e-cigs, raises blood pressure, which can damage retinal blood vessels.

The chemicals that lead to vision damage from smoking are also present in vaping products, although to what extent is not yet fully researched. These chemicals are all toxins that inflame the eyes and can produce oxidative stress, leading to increased risks for eye diseases and vision problems. 

Smoking increases your risk for:

  • Cataracts: While cataracts naturally develop slowly over many years, smoking and vaping can accelerate cataract development. Cataracts can lead to blurry and dim vision, sensitivity to light and glare, and less colorful vision. Smokers are two to three times more likely to develop cataracts than nonsmokers. Surgery is the only treatment for cataracts. If cataracts are impacting your daily life, schedule a consultation with us to see if you could benefit from cataract surgery.
  • Dry eye syndrome: The vapor or smoke exhaled is itself an irritant that can cause inflammation when it makes contact with the eyes, but nicotine is also an irritant when ingested. Smoking and vaping can also disrupt tear production. This can cause dry eyes and worsen symptoms in people with the condition. Understanding the cause of your dry eye is critical for deciding how to treat it. At Columbus Laser & Cataract Center, our LipiView® imaging system helps our experts determine the cause of your dry eye and if you may be a good candidate for advanced treatment.
  • Glaucoma: Smoking and vaping increases risk of glaucoma, which may reduce vision and, if left untreated, lead to blindness. 
  • Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD): By causing oxidative stress, smoking and vaping can increase likelihood for AMD. AMD occurs when the retina begins to deteriorate or excess blood vessels begin to grow under the retina. This causes blind spots, which can severely impair vision. In fact, AMD is the leading cause of permanent blindness in Americans 65 and older. 

Smoking also increases the risk of uveitis, diabetic retinopathy, and more. The good news? Quitting smoking can decrease your likelihood of developing these conditions almost instantly.

Smoking and eye surgery 

At Columbus Laser & Cataract Center, we encourage all patients to permanently quit smoking and vaping to achieve their healthiest eyes (and life!). For patients considering eye surgery, such as LASIK or cataract surgery, we especially encourage giving up smoking for several weeks before surgery to decrease the likelihood of any complications. We also ask patients to forgo smoking or vaping for several weeks following surgery until the eye is completely healed. The smoke and vapors exhaled cause eye inflammation and can interrupt the healing process. Clean air is always best for recovery!

If you have any more questions about smoking and your eye surgery, contact us today. The experts at the Columbus Laser & Cataract Center are happy to help you! For more information on how to give up smoking or vaping for good, check out the CDC’s Tips from a Former Smoker campaign for resources to quit now.