I quit smoking when I found out I was going to be a dad. This was the catalyst that made me want to change my life for the better. After twenty years of trying different ways to quit, it was the thought of not being with her that helped me quit. I thought of my life, her life, without me in it. I want to be there for her every moment I can, for as long as I can. Roughly a month or so before I found out she was going to be in my life, I started working at an online contact lens retailer, Contact Lens King. It was here that I learned about contact lenses, the eye care industry, and overall eye health. I knew smoking was bad for my lungs, my heart, and my overall long-term well-being; and I guess it just never crossed my mind, but I also learned just how bad smoking was for my eyes. Not only do I want to be alive with my daughter in the long term, I also want to be able to see her grow and become the amazing woman I know she will be.
Working in the contact lens industry I’ve read a lot of horror stories about people who don’t follow proper contact lens care directions and end up with gruesome results. Your eyes are the only organs that get their oxygen from their surroundings rather than from your body. When you smoke you pollute your environment and cause your eyes problems from the lack of oxygen. Every smoker has felt the sting of smoke in their eyes. When you wear contacts it compounds the inflammation, soreness, dry eyes and irritability. Plus when you smoke it not only leaves tar and nicotine on your fingers, but also on your contact lenses themselves causing a litany of issues which I will lay out below.
The CDC estimates the United States alone has roughly 480,000 deaths a year attributed to smoking. That’s half a million people that die each year from a preventable habit! The health risks associated with smoking are well known and numerous: Lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, a reduction in my overall life expectancy are just several of the dozens of concerns detrimental to my long term liveliness. This number does not take into account those people who are still alive and suffering from the adverse effects of smoking. More than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking. For every person who dies because of smoking another 30 live with a serious smoking related illness. Here are a few of the horrible diseases that can affect your eyes that will make you want to stop smoking today.
-Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) starts as a loss of central vision and makes it harder to read or see fine details in things. Smoking increases the severity and triples the risk of this disease, which is the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 65. There are two types of AMD, “dry” and “wet”, with dry being the most common. Dry AMD causes fatty deposits to form in the back of the eye behind your retina, with vision getting worse slowly over time. Wet AMD causes tiny blood vessels to leak or break open, which in turn causes scar tissue to develop. Wet AMD is less common, but more quickly to produce harmful vision results.
-Glaucoma is the gradual breakdown of the optic nerve cells that sends visual information to your brain. As the cells die, your vision slowly begins to deteriorate, usually starting with your peripheral vision. This is often not noticeable until a significant amount of nerve damage has occurred. Due to this, almost half the people who have glaucoma may not be aware they have it. There are two types of Glaucoma: Primary open-angle Glaucoma and acute angle closure Glaucoma. The former is the most common type, which by the time you are aware of it, can have already caused significant vision loss. The latter form of Glaucoma is less common, but can come on more rapidly due to increased pressure on the inside of the eye. Symptoms can include: eye pain, nausea, red eye, seeing colored rings around lights and blurry vision. Smoking can significantly increase the risk of developing open-angle Glaucoma, which can lead to blindness. Unfortunately, presently there is no cure for this horrible disease.
-Smoking thins your blood, not allowing enough oxygen to flow to the parts of your body that need to breath; like your eyes. Smoking enhances your risks for developing diabetes and the potentially blinding complications that come with it; one of them being Diabetic Retinopathy. Diabetic Retinopathy causes tiny blood vessels in your eye to become blocked, leak or break down completely. When new blood vessels begin to grow they can cover your retina, which can cause extreme vision complications and even blindness. There are four stages of Diabetic Retinopathy: mild, moderate, severe non-proliferative Retinopathy and Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy; the last of which leads to permanent vision loss. People with all types of Diabetes are at risk for this additional complication. Roughly 40-45% of people with Diabetes have some stage of Diabetic Retinopathy, yet only half are even aware of it.
-When you smoke it leaves a sticky brownish black residue on your fingers which you can wash off; imagine the gunk it is leaving on your eyes, this cannot be rinsed away. This gunk over time accelerates the erosion of the lens in your eye, which can lead to Cataracts. Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in the United States, and smoking doubles your chances of getting them. Cataracts are a build-up of protein in the lens of the eye which causes cloudy or blurry vision. Generally cataracts take years to develop and can be undetectable in the early stages of growth. This is why cataracts for the most part start being noticeable in people age forty and older, although you can develop them when you are young or even be born with them. Symptoms may include double vision, cloudy, blurry vision, faded colors or a stark glare around light sources. Cataracts are estimated to affect roughly twenty million plus people in the United States over the age of forty; with this number set to double in the next twenty years. Strangely enough, out of this number, 61% of those affected by Cataracts are women. Cataracts can be classified by their location in the eye and length of time they have been present. There are a few types of cataracts: Subcapsular Cataracts develop in the back of the lens, Nuclear Cataracts develop in the center of the eye, and Cortical Cataracts form along the edges of the lens and point inward. The only solution to cure Cataracts is through surgery. This is an expensive and uncomfortable in and out procedure. Luckily for the majority of patients, the Cataracts don’t return after they’re removed. Only in about 10% of patients does a film begin to develop over the lens again. Beyond smoking and aging other causes of Cataracts can include: Excessive alcohol consumption, overt exposure to the sun and other UV rays, Diabetes, certain medications and injury to the eye itself.
Smoking ruins lives. Not only does it affect you, but the lives of those around you and the lives of those you love. I love my daughter more than I’ve ever loved anything else in my life. I want to live for her as long as I can, see her grow and see her experience life. I can’t do that if smoking takes away my vision or worse yet my life. Whether it’s your eyes, your lungs, your heart or any other part of your body; smoking is just not worth it.