Smoking can blind you, say doctors
[FONT=Geneva,Arial,sans-serif]Jo Revill, health editor
Sunday May 21, 2006
[/FONT]Cigarette packets should carry warnings that smoking causes blindness, doctors will argue this week as a new study shows that the habit can badly damage eyesight. A European study is set to show the leading cause of blindness - age-related macular degeneration - is directly attributable to smoking in more than one in four cases. In addition, clouding of the eye lens occurs in smokers 10 to 15 years earlier than in non-smokers.
'There are many thousands of smokers who have no idea smoking can actually rob you of your sight,' said Nick Astbury, president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists. 'The chemicals affect blood vessels throughout the body, and one of the secondary effects is that they slowly damage the tissues of the eye.'
For years, cigarette packets have carried health warnings linking cigarettes to heart disease, cancer and harm to unborn babies. Now eye specialists will call this week for cigarette packets to carry warnings about blindness.
A report, so far unpublished, on 5,000 patients across the EU - the European Eye Study - shows that 27 per cent of them had eye disease directly attributable to smoking. Other studies show that passive smoking can lead to eye diseases.
Simon Kelly, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at the Bolton Hospitals NHS Trust in Greater Manchester, who has campaigned for awareness of the risks, carried out research last year in which he asked 400 patients about the links between illness and smoking. Although 90 per cent realised the habit could cause lung cancer, fewer than 10 per cent knew smoking could cause blindness.
'The evidence is so strong now that smoking really does harm the eye,' said Kelly. 'In the case of macular degeneration, we know smokers have a twofold to threefold risk of developing the condition. But if they also have a genetic predisposition to the disease, that becomes an eightfold increased risk.'
He called for a campaign aimed at younger people. 'In Australia and New Zealand, they ran a TV campaign spelling out that blindness could be caused by cigarettes, and that led to 72 per cent of the population accepting that there was a link.'
With macular degeneration, damage occurs because chemicals in tobacco affect the metabolism of the retina and bring about a premature ageing of the eye. People risk gradually losing their central vision and could go completely blind. There are two forms of the disease, 'dry' and 'wet' macular degeneration. In Britain, 250,000 people suffer from the wet type, which is linked to smoking and is partly caused by leakage of fluid. Some people don't lose their sight entirely, but find they can no longer read or drive. It mostly affects people over 60, but in some cases where there are genetic factors it can occur in middle age.