Kicking the smoking habit could be the best thing you do for your health. Add another negative to the long list of smoking hazards: poor eyesight.
Your vision concerns now will only get worse if you’re a smoker, according to a recent Swedish study, published this January in JAMA Ophthalmology from the American Medical Association.
Science has shown that smoking is a risk factor for cataract development; however, the definitive effect that smoking cessation has on the risk of developing cataracts had not been established. Swedish researchers set out to determine if there was any effect on vision when smokers kicked the habit – what they found may lead smokers to finally butt out.
Cataracts are the leading cause of vision problems throughout the world, accounting for more than 50 percent of worldwide blindness. Cataracts involve a clouding of the lens in the eye. Most cataracts develop slowly and don’t affect vision in the early stages but, as the cataract grows larger, it clouds more of the lens, impairing vision. Everyday tasks such as driving and reading become difficult.
In the initial stages of cataract development, impaired vision can be corrected with eye glasses. But as the cataract progresses and interferes with normal activities, cataract surgery often is necessary. This common surgery is generally safe, removing the clouded lens and replacing it with a clear, artificial lens. Discomfort from surgery usually lasts for a few days and full recovery takes approximately eight weeks.
In this extensive study, 44,731 men between the ages of 45 and 79 first completed a self-administered questionnaire in 1997. The survey addressed their smoking habits and other lifestyle factors. Participants were tracked from January 1, 1998 to December 31, 2009. During the follow-up period, 5,713 cases of age-related cataract extraction were identified.
Here’s how it broke down: There was an increased risk of cataract extraction with increased smoking intensity and cumulative smoking dose. Individuals that smoked more than 15 cigarettes per day had a 42 percent increased risk of cataract extraction compared to non-smokers. However, individuals who quit smoking had a significantly decreased risk of cataract extraction over time. After two decades of not smoking , the men who had smoked 15 or more cigarettes per day had a 21 percent increased risk of cataract extraction compared to non-smokers – a significant drop in risk.
Those who quit smoking, who had smoked less than 15 cigarettes per day, saw a decreased risk earlier than heavier smokers. To note, the risk of cataract extraction did not decrease to the same level as non-smokers for light or heavy smokers.
The researchers reported that smoking not only increased the risk of developing cataracts, but was also associated with other vision problems, including age-related macular degeneration, Grave’s ophthalmopathy and ocular inflammation.
The results from this research suggest that smoking prevention campaigns should be heavily promoted, and eye care professionals need to get in on the act to encourage smokers to quit to preserve their vision. Although the increased risk of cataracts in smokers persists for decades after quitting, and does not decrease to the same level as people who never smoked, cataract risk does decrease with time. So the payoff for butting out now, will help to protect your vision as you age.