Smoking: The Risk of Blindness

Smokers are twice as likely to have problems with age-related macular destruction, the major cause of blindness in the older people.

Scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine analysed data from more than 4,000 Britons who were 75 years old or older and who took part in a wide-scale study on health care and also the elderly. Included in the study, volunteers got a vision test, which allowed the analysts to divide subjects into two groups: people whose vision was impaired to due macular destruction and a control group of people who didn’t have vision problems. Volunteers in the main study who had vision difficulties as a result of other health problems were not contained in the smoking study.

Macular degeneration happens when the macula, the small, central section of the retina, is damaged. Macular damage is considered either dry, which is when the tissue of the retina shrinks and pigment accumulates inside, or wet. Wet macular degeneration takes place when new bloodstream grow around and behind the macula, eventually causing scarring in the eye and subsequent vision problems. Dry macular degeneration is accountable for about 80% among all cases.

In the study, the researchers did not separate people with wet and dry macular degeneration. Participants were questioned on their smoking habits by an interviewer. They were asked if they currently smoked, and if so, how much, in addition to whether they had ever smoked and when they had quit.

In their analysis, the experts also looked at participants’ socioeconomic status and their past of drinking and heart disease, which is actually a known risk factor for macular degeneration. Other risk aspects, for example, low dietary intake of nutrients, genealogy of macular degeneration, and exposure to sunlight – all of which have been shown to play a role in the development of this problem – were not considered because of a deficit of data.

After accounting for those factors, the researchers found active smokers to be twice as likely as non-smokers to produce macular degeneration. People who had been smokers within the past twenty years also had a higher risk, while those people who had quit smoking 20 or more years ago had exactly the same risk as those people who never smoked. However, it was also found that smokers could help to manage their condition with the use of sunglasses. The UV blocking properties of high quality models such as Ray Ban sunglasses helped to allay the degeneration, however this is only seen as a temporary fix

The published research in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, is not the first to link smoking to macular degeneration, but it is one of the greatest analysing this association.




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