College of Optometrists highlights link between AMD and smoking on No Smoking Day

  • 8 Mar 2017

Smokers up to four times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers.

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We all know that smoking is bad for your overall health, but do you know how it can affect your vision? As part of No Smoking Day the College of Optometrists is highlighting the link between smoking and a range of eye health problems, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.

Tobacco smoke is composed of as many as 4,000 active compounds, most of which are toxic and potentially damaging to the eyes. Research has shown that smokers are up to four times1 more likely than non-smokers to develop AMD – the leading cause of blindness in the western world and tend to develop it earlier than non-smokers.

Smoking can also impede the protective effects of antioxidants and reduce macular pigment density which is vital for good sight and smokers are at greater risk of developing cataracts2 - where the clear lens inside your eye becomes cloudy or misty and can only be treated with surgery. It is also a factor associated with an increased risk of contact lens-related corneal ulcers, a painful and serious eye infection3. There is also a significant association between smoking and increased risk of retinal vein occlusions4,5 which causes reduced vision, and recent research showed that smokers are more likely to develop uveitis compared to non-smokers6.

Daniel Hardiman-McCartney, Clinical Adviser for the College of Optometrists, explains; “The health benefits of smoking cessation are well documented, including reducing damage to lungs and decreasing the risks of cancer but few people know of the link between smoking and blindness. We all know that smoking has a detrimental effect on health, but it’s important to highlight the lesser known effect that it can have on eyesight, one of people’s most valued senses. Smoking is linked with an increased risk of blindness, but there is some good news. If you stop smoking the risk of losing your sight diminishes over time, so the sooner you stop, the better for your vision. I would urge any smokers who are worried about the effect it may be having on their eyes to talk to their optometrist.”

However, there is some positive and encouraging news; studies have found that people who stopped smoking 20 years ago have a similar risk of developing AMD to non-smokers7.

No Smoking Day is on Wednesday 8 March.



Note to editors:

  1. Previously known as ophthalmic opticians, optometrists are trained professionals who examine eyes, test sight, give advice on visual problems, and prescribe and dispense spectacles or contact lenses. They also recommend other treatments or visual aids where appropriate. Optometrists are trained to recognise eye diseases, referring such cases as necessary, and can also use or supply various eye drugs.
  2. Optometrists study at university for at least three years and participate in a full year of training and supervision, called the pre-registration year, before qualifying. Once qualified, they have the opportunity to develop their interests in specialist aspects of practice such as contact lenses, treating eye diseases, low vision, children’s vision and sports vision.
  3. The letters FCOptom or MCOptom after an optometrist’s name means that he or she is a fellow or member of the College of Optometrists.Membership of the College shows their commitment to the very highest clinical, ethical and professional standards, so look for these letters to see if your optometrist is a member.
  4. For information and advice about how to look after your eyes visit:

    The College is the professional body for optometry. It qualifies the profession and delivers the guidance and training to ensure optometrists provide the best possible care. We promote excellence through the College’s affixes, by building the evidence base for optometry, and raising awareness of the profession with the public, commissioners, and health care professionals.
  5. There are currently over 11,500 registered optometrists in the UK.



1Kelly SP, Thornton J, Lyratzopoulos G et al. Smoking and blindness. BMJ 2004;328:537-8.

2Kelly SP, Thornton J, Edwards R, et al. Smoking and cataract: review of causal association. J Cataract Refract Surg 2005;31:2395–404.

3Mohammad-Rabei H,Feizi M and Sheibani K. Contact lens induced corneal ulcers; a series of a considerable risk factor. J Ophthalmic Vis Res. 2014 Jan; 9(1): 119–121.

4Klein R, Klein BE, Moss SE et al, The epidemiology of retinal vein occlusion: the Beaver Dam eye study. Trans Am Ophthalmol Soc. 2000; 98: 133–143.

5Wong TY, Larsen EKM, Klein R, et al. Cardiovascular Risk Factors for Retinal Vein Occlusion and Arteriolar Emboli : The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities & Cardiovascular Health studies. Ophthalmology. 2005; 112: 540-7.

6Yuen B, Tham V, Browne E et al. Association between smoking and uveitis: results from the Pacific Ocular Inflammation Study. Ophthalmology. 2015 Jun; 122(6): 1257–1261.

7Delcourt C, Diaz J, Ponton-Sanchez A et al. Smoking and Age-related Macular Degeneration. Arch Ophthalmol. 1998;116(8):1031-1035.

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