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Many smokers are unaware of the link between tobacco smoking and blindness. The most common form of blindness caused by smoking is age-related macular degeneration.1

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease affecting the macular, which is the central part of the retina at the back of the eye that provides vision for daily tasks such as driving, reading and recognising faces. The disease causes irreversible loss of central vision.2 It is usually related to ageing and most commonly affects people over 50 years of age.

Age-related macular degeneration is a progressive disease and there is currently no cure for the disease.3,4 The most important known preventable risk factor for developing age-related macular degeneration is tobacco consumption.2,5

Current smokers have four times the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration compared to past smokers or non-smokers.5,6 Smokers may also develop the disease about 10 years earlier than non-smokers.1,7

The number of years you smoke and the number of cigarettes smoked increases the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.1,8,9

There are around 150,600 Australians who may have age-related macular degeneration.10 It is estimated that smoking causes or contributes to around 20% of new blindness in people over 50 years old.6

In many cases, age-related macular degeneration may be prevented by eliminating smoking.2 If you quit smoking, your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration decreases the longer you stay off cigarettes. 20 years after quitting, your risk is the same as someone who has never smoked.1,9,11

There is also some evidence of increased risk for age-related macular degeneration in non-smokers exposed to passive smoking.8

Smoking also increases your risk of developing other eye problems such as cataracts. A cataract is the clouding of the eye’s naturally clear lens.2 As a result, the amount of light that can pass through is reduced and the image cannot be properly focussed on the retina in the eye.2,12 Cataracts are another leading cause of blindness and smokers are two to three times more likely to develop cataracts than nonsmokers.13

The number of years you smoke and the number of cigarettes smoked increases the risk of developing a cataract.12,14,15

Decided to quit? For help, talk to your doctor or pharmacist, call the Quitline on 131 848 or visit the Quitline web site.

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Sources
  1. Kelly SP, Thornton J, Lyratzopoulos G, Edwards R, Mitchell P. Smoking and Blindness. BMJ, Mar 2004; 328: 537-538 [editorial] http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/328/7439/537 (printed 6/6/06) (This website link was valid at the time of submission)
  2. Eye Health in Australia. Commonwealth of Australia, 2005. www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/ageing-eyehealth-australia-toc.htm (This website link was valid at the time of submission)
  3. Macular Degeneration Foundation. Fact sheet – what is macular degeneration? http://www.mdfoundation.com.au/whatismd.aspx (printed 6/6/06)
  4. Gottlieb JL. Age-related macular degeneration. JAMA 2002; 288: 2233-2236. http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/288/18/2233 (printed 6/6/06)
  5. Smith W, Assink J, Klein R, Mitchell P, Klaver CC, Klein BE, Hofman A, Jensen S, Wang JJ, de Jong PT. Risk factors for age-related macular degeneration: pooled findings from three continents. Ophthalmology. 2001 Apr; 108(4):697-704. [abstract] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11297486?dopt=Abstract (printed 6/6/06)
  6. Mitchell P, Chapman S, Smith W. Smoking is a major cause of blindness. MJA 1999; 171: 173-174. http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/171_4_160899/mitchell/mitchell.html (printed 6/6/06)
  7. Centre for Vision Research. Macular degeneration fact sheet. http://www.cvr.org.au/armd.htm (printed 6/6/06)
  8. Khan JC, Thurlby DA, Shahid H, Clayton DG, Yates JRW, Bradley M, Moore AT, Bird AC for the Genetics Factors in AMD Study. Smoking and age related macular degeneration: the number of pack years of cigarette smoking is a major determinant of risk for both geographic atrophy and choroidal neovascularisation. Br. J. Ophthalmol., Jan 2006; 90: 75-80. http://bjo.bmjjournals.com
  9. Delcourt C, Diaz JL, Ponton-Sanchez A, Papoz L. Smoking and age-related macular degeneration. The POLA study. Arch Ophthalmol. 1998; 116: 1031-1035. [abstract] http://archopht.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/116/8/1031 (printed 6/6/06)
  10. AIHW 2005. Vision problems among older Australians. Bulletin no. 27. AIHW cat. No. AUS 60. Canberra: AIHW.
  11. Vingerling JR, Hofman A, Grobbee DE, de Jong PT. Age-related macular degeneration and smoking. The Rotterdam study. Arch Ophthalmol. 1996; 114: 1193-1196. [abstract] http://archopht.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/114/10/1193 (printed 6/6/06)
  12. American Council on Science and Health. Cigarettes: What the warning label doesn’t tell you. Second edition. New York, American Council on Science and Health, 2003.
  13. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: what it means to you. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2004. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/sgr_2004/index.htm
  14. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: A report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2004. www.cdc.gov/tobacco/sgr/sgr_2004/index.htm (This website link was valid at the time of submission)
  15. West S, Munoz B, Schein OD, Vitale S, Maguire M, Taylor HR, Bressler NM. Cigarette smoking and risk for progression of nuclear opacities. Arch Ophthalmol. 1995; 113(11):1377-80. [abstract] http://archopht.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/113/11/1377 (printed 13/6/06)
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