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The blind truth about smoking – why giving up smoking could actually save your sight!

In the UK the estimated number of people suffering sight loss was estimated to be 1.8 million in 2008, rising to a prediction of 2.4 million by 2020 and then more than doubling to 4 million by 2050. Even more frightening is the statistic that 50% of these cases are totally preventable through awareness. This should be a concern to all of us, given that an optical industry survey suggests that 86% of us value our sight more highly than any other sense. So surely anything that helps preserve your sight is worth taking note of?

Smoking has been identified in numerous research studies as a major risk factor for sight threatening sight conditions. As well as the risk of conditions such as cataract, smokers are particularly at risk of macular degeneration; the leading cause of blindness in the developed world. Macular degeneration, or age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) as it is often called, is the condition where the central sight is damaged leaving the less detailed peripheral sight. It is caused by damage to deep blood vessels within the central retina called the macular at the back of the eye. This causes them to leak and damage the surrounding area of retina resulting in sight damage. Risk factors for ARMD include age, UV light exposure, poor nutrition, genetics and smoking. While smokers may be tempted to feel that quitting is no guarantee that they won’t get macular degeneration since all these other factors are at play, it has to be said that smoking is one of the biggest risk factors that is in your control.

Smoking is known to have a destructive consequence on blood vessels throughout your body, but the ones in the macular are particularly vulnerable to damage from smoking. At its worse ARMD can cause sudden central sight loss in the ‘wet’ form of the disease but, it more commonly results in a gradual central loss of sight over years in the ‘dry’ form. There is unfortunately, no cure for ARMD at the moment, but minimising the risk factors may prevent you getting it or reduce its rate of deterioration. There is also evidence that some of the general damage done by smoking can be reversed when you quit. This should be great motivation to break the habit for good. Giving up smoking could be the best investment you make for your eyesight today.

Martin Oguzie

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