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New Knowledge About Smoking and Your Eye Health

Instead of continuing our blog series on patient FAQ’s today, let’s take a moment to talk about smoking – and your eyes – since it’s relevant to recent health news.

Now, if you smoke, or have smoked in the past, or have ever read a magazine or surfed the internet, or are in fact a human being living among people…you are already aware that there are health ramifications to smoking. There is a wealth of information about smoking causing lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease in particular, and it was brought once more to the forefront with the new 50-year report released by the Surgeon General last week.

The New Report

If you haven’t read up on it yet, overall in a big-picture way the report is encouraging. But not so much, unfortunately, for individual smokers. From the executive summary: “Although the prevalence of smoking has declined significantly over the past one-half century, the risks for smoking-related disease and mortality have not.”

Two things that stand out in this new report are a.) the risk of actually getting a disease like lung cancer has increased, even though Americans are smoking fewer cigarettes, because the cigarettes themselves have become worse for you. And b.) the number of diseases we now know to be linked to smoking has increased significantly since the last report.

Why We’re Paying Attention

“But I knew it was bad anyway,” you might say. “How does this new information tell us something we don’t already know? Why are we even still talking about it?”

A fair question! But there is one new addition to the list of diseases caused by smoking that particularly interests me (and my fellow people at North Cascade Eye Associates.) I think taking a moment to talk about it here might offer a new view on a seemingly old subject, especially since your vision is involved!

The addition I’m talking about is something eye care practitioners already knew about: Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), one of the leading causes of blindness. Cascadia Eye already created a document for patients that talks about the eye diseases either directly linked with smoking, or made significantly worse by it, which you can read here: Smoking and Eye Disease. Most people don’t know the vision part of the story, but our doctors have seen these problems first hand…and you may note that AMD is the first thing on our list.

While cataracts, the other primary eye risk, have already appeared on a previous report by the Surgeon General, now AMD has made it onto the list as well. The report summary states:

The retina is a delicate, light-sensitive tissue that lines the inside of the eye. The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina and is the part of the eye that supplies sharp vision. Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) gradually destroys the macula and can ultimately lead to loss of vision in the center of the eye. This report finds that smoking is a cause of AMD (Chapter 10). Evidence in the report also suggests that quitting smoking may reduce the risk for AMD, but the reduced risk may not appear for 20 or more years after smoking cessation.”

The Health Consequences of Smoking – 50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General

Be aware that AMD can also develop with the natural aging process even if you’ve never smoked. But the risk grows two to four times greater with smoking, and even if you aren’t over 60 yet, knowing about it now can arm you against it happening in the future. And although it can take up to 20 years of not smoking to achieve the same levels as those who never smoked, no matter when you stop, you do get an immediate decrease in risk!

The Takeaway

Quitting smoking is tough. Several of my friends are working on it right now, and I’ve learned that there are a lot more factors to it than just knowing the right health facts. So while I hope that knowing your future vision can be affected might provide a new facet to your knowledge, I know it won’t solve everything. Resources for quitting are abundant on the internet, starting with this one. Having an outside source of accountability helps too, whether from a group or an online habit-building site. (I linked to a personal favorite of mine because it turns your life into a leveling-up game, and I am kind of a nerd like that.)

If you don’t smoke, we hope you keep it that way for your vision’s sake – but be kind and supportive of your friends who are working on it! If you are trying to quit, know that I (and North Cascade Eye Associates) support you all the way. It might be a long journey, but it’s worth it. If you aren’t ready to take that step yet, we’re still here for you and want to make sure you are fully-informed. No matter what, we care about your eye health…and we also care about you.

Contact North Cascade Eye Associates

If you would like more information, or if you would like to schedule an appointment at North Cascade Eye Associates, please contact us today.

In addition, join us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ to ask your questions about eyes, exams, and our practice. We’d love to hear from you – and I might write a blog to address your questions in the future.

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