Smoking Linked To Blindness

A woman smokes a cigarette as she holds an ice-cream cone in downtown Rome, Friday, July 26, 2002. Cigarette censors could one day be snipping at ribbons of smoke wafting across Italy's TV screens, if the health minister gets his way to end television images that glorify smoking a tough sell in country where puffs of gray smoke often sail freely past no-smoking signs. AP

Need another reason to stop smoking? Cigarette smokers are far more likely than nonsmokers to go blind late in life, but few people are aware of the risk, new research suggests.

Smoking was associated with a two- to threefold increase in the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in a review of studies conducted by researchers in the U.K.

AMD is the most common cause of legal blindness in people over the age of 55; it occurs in nearly one out of three people over the age of 75. Roughly 200,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S. Approximately 10 million people in the U.S. are affected by the condition.

The condition is largely irreversible and difficult to treat. AMD blurs the sharp central vision, affecting visual acuity, our most detailed, vision which we use for skills like reading, driving, or activities that require fine, sharp, or straight-ahead vision.

"The studies confirmed that smokers were significantly more likely to develop AMD than nonsmokers and that heavy smokers had the highest risk," ophthalmic surgeon and study co-researcher Simon P. Kelly, MD, tells WebMD.


Patient Survey On Smoking And Health

In addition to reviewing the studies, Kelly and colleagues conducted a survey to determine if people knew that smoking was associated with blindness. Roughly 400 adult patients being treated at ophthalmology, general surgery, and orthopaedic clinics answered questions about smoking and health.

"Our hypothesis was that few patients would be aware of the risk of eye disease (associated with) smoking, but that awareness of the risks to eyesight from smoking would be a strong stimulus for smokers to quit," the researchers wrote in the latest issue of the journal Eye.

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