Despite countless studies, warnings, and health concerns, and even though the number has fallen, there are 34.3 million people in the U.S. who smoke cigarettes, according to the CDC. The most talked about health effects of tobacco use are lung cancer, heart disease, and respiratory diseases, but smoking can also affect one other very important organ — your eyes.

People who smoke cigarettes, cigars, or pipes are at a higher risk of:

  • Dry eye
  • Cataracts
  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Optic nerve conditions
  • Uveitis
  • Infant eye disease

In this post, we’ll go over how smoking affects the health of your eyes and the details of these conditions. Dr. Sina J. Sabet, an eye doctor and ophthalmologist in Alexandria is passionate about educating his patients on the risks of smoking and providing exceptional care and treatment. Dr. Sina provides everything from full eye exams to cataract surgery, emergency eye care, and more. If you are experiencing any eye pain or irritation or have noticed a change in your vision, get in touch today to schedule an appointment.

How Smoking Affects Your Eyes

Tobacco smoke has thousands of toxic chemical compounds and around 70 cause cancer. Some of the chemicals include nicotine, lead, arsenic, ammonia, benzene, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), formaldehyde, and more. When tobacco is burned and the smoke is breathed into your body, the toxins remain there. The smoke that is breathed out after inhaling also contains harmful chemicals. Both the smoke that is inhaled and exhaled can cause damage to your eyes.

Eye Conditions Caused by Smoking

Dry Eye

Dry eye syndrome occurs when the surface of the eye isn’t getting adequate moisture or lubrication. Symptoms of dry eyes can include redness, itchiness, or a feeling of something being stuck in the eye. The smoke that is exhaled is an irritant that will exacerbate the symptoms of dry eye, especially for those who wear contacts. Second-hand smoke can also cause dry eye.


Your eye has a lens just behind the cornea that focuses rays of light onto the retina. Cataracts occur when the proteins of the lens begin to break down. This results in a clouding of the lens that will distort vision, cause colors to appear faded, can cause double vision, and other symptoms. Those who smoke are significantly more at risk of developing cataracts. In addition, the longer a person smokes, the more the risk is increased. Cataracts can be treated by an ophthalmologist with surgery, but quitting smoking can help prevent them from developing.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

This condition affects the retina and the macula, which is a part of the retina. These parts of the eye control the sharpness of our vision and the central vision necessary for tasks like reading and driving. Macular degeneration can be caused by a variety of reasons, including age, hereditary, and environmental factors, such as smoking and diet. Some studies have suggested that smokers are three times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers.

Diabetic Retinopathy

A disease that affects the blood vessels in the retina, this can result in vision loss and a person doesn’t need to have diabetes to develop diabetic retinopathy. According to the Transactions of the American Ophthalmological Society, “Retinopathy in persons without diabetes or retinal vein occlusion is common, occurring in 1% to 15% of the nondiabetic general population.” According to the CDC, more than five million American have this eye condition due to type one or two diabetes.


This is an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye, or the uvea, which is behind the white of the eye. It also damages the iris and retina and can lead to other conditions, such as glaucoma and retinal detachment. It can cause symptoms including redness, pain, blurred vision, and floating spots.

Infant Eye Disease

There are various concerns when mother’s smoke during pregnancy. When women smoke while pregnant, the toxins can be transferred to the baby through the placenta, causing premature birth, strabismus, or crossed eyes, and it can cause the optic nerve to be underdeveloped, which is the leading cause of blindness in children.


A gradual disease, glaucoma affects how liquid in the eye drains. As liquid builds up, it causes pressure to increase, resulting in damage to the optic nerve. There are two major types of glaucoma:

  • Open-angle is painless and occurs gradually.
  • Narrow-angle glaucoma is when the drainage is blocked quickly causing potentially severe pain.

Many researchers and eye doctors have linked smoking and high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for glaucoma.

If you’re ready to quit smoking, here are a few things you can do.

  • Medications: Many people use medications to help them quit, including gum, patches, lozenges, inhalers, and sprays.
  • Counseling: Combining medication with therapy can provide smokers with additional support. It doesn’t need to be professional counselors either, you can enlist the help of friends, coworkers, and family.
  • Apps: There are a variety of phone apps that provide support through goals, reminders, notifications, and more.
  • Cold Turkey: Possibly the most difficult route, stopping cold turkey means you quit smoking without any assistance from medication.

If you’re experiencing any issues with your eyes, don’t hesitate to contact an Alexandria eye doctor for an appointment. Dr. Sina J. Sabet and his team strive to provide the best possible care. At the first sign of issues, whether it’s prolonged redness, pain, or changes in your vision, it’s best to get professional advice and guidance to prevent a small issue from becoming a dangerous condition.