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The Connection Between The Development Of This Serious Eye Condition & The Smoking Habit


The name of this eye condition is Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Also known as AMD, the condition affects the center of the retina, which is responsible for that sharp, central vision needed for everyday tasks such as reading and driving while often making it difficult or impossible to recognize faces. There is some good news in that enough peripheral vision remains to allow other activities of daily life. This degeneration causes “blind spots” and can severely impair central vision, usually affecting older adults and because of damage to the retina. It occurs in "dry" and "wet" forms.

The link between AMD and smoking is very obvious

Sadly, smokers can have a three times higher increase in AMD risk compared with those who have never smoked while female smokers over the age of eighty are five and a half times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers of the same age. Starting from the inside of the eye and going towards the back, the three main layers at the back of the eye are the retina (which contains the nerves); the choroid (which contains the blood supply); and the sclera (which is the white of the eye). The macula is the central area of the retina, which provides the most detailed central vision.

When people smoke, several things can happen

  • Cigarette smoking reduces levels of plasma antioxidant, a substance in the blood stream, which protects retinal cells.
  • Smoking causes the protective layer between the retina and blood vessels to erode, resulting in poor circulation, irritation and scarring.
  • Smoking is also damaging to the blood supply.
  • Smoking exposes the body to free radicals which causes cellular damage with poor circulation of nutrients to the retina and lens.
  • Carotenoid levels and vitamin C blood concentrations are substantially reduced.
  • Smoking oxidizes cholesterol, causing fat to build up in the arteries. As well as leading to heart attack or stroke, it can cause macular degeneration.
  • The smoke from smoking contains poisons that thicken vessels' walls so that the blood flow towards the retina is hindered, often with catastrophic results.
It is only when you have had a scare with your own eyesight that you realize how important it is. Treat your eyes right and they’ll work for you well into old age.

Apart from giving up smoking, what else can you do?

  • Your diet can go a long way to improve the health of your eyes and help prevent diseases such as AMD by including specific foods and nutrients in your diet such as carrots, grape seed, cod liver oil, blueberries, kiwi fruit, pineapples and green tea for optimum eye health.
  • Vitamin C contributes to good eye health including helping reduce the risk of AMD. Vitamin C is one of the top antioxidants in your eye lens and it prevents cataracts from developing. It also helps keep the shape of the cornea as the nutrient strengthens capillaries and builds collagen. Find out more about vitamin C here.
  • Vitamin K (often referred to as the forgotten vitamin) is another vitamin providing vital health benefits for the prevention of macular degeneration while contributing to general eye health. 
  • Folic acid helps prevent macular degeneration and those foods rich in folic acid are found in 4 of the main food groups such as liver, chicken, giblets, kidney and egg yolk; legumes and nuts; wholegrain breads, wheat flour and potatoes; green veggies including asparagus as well as banana, oranges and peaches. Cooking can destroy folic acid so eat as many of these foods raw as possible.
  • Eat food rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, a class of carotenoids offering powerful prevention against age-related macular degeneration. Egg yolks and peppers of all colors are particularly rich in lutein and zeaxanthin.
You can find more diet tips for combating ADM in our earlier blog post.

Is it too late to quit smoking?

It is never too late to give up the smoking habit as quitting at any age can reduce your risk for many sight-threatening eye conditions including macular degeneration. The AMD Alliance Report states: "In short, there is now no longer any doubt that smoking is the most important preventable risk factor for AMD."

Sources http://www.makuladegeneration.org/EN/maculardegeneration_smoking.php http://www.smokefree.gov