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Up in Smoke: Indian Doctors Link Vision Loss With Smoking

According to doctors, smokers are at a significantly higher risk for eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts.

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India-based ophthalmologists said smoking is emerging as one of the main reasons of vision loss among patients. However, only 10-20 percent of people are aware of it.

Several studies have shown that smoking increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and dry eye syndrome.

The obvious way to reduce the risk of developing such eye diseases by quitting smoking, the doctors say.

"Smokers are three to four times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers. Non-smokers living with smokers almost double their risk of developing AMD," said Dr. Mahipal S. Sachdev, Chairman and Medical Director of the Centre for Sight, a leading eye care provider in India.

"AMD begins as a loss of central vision which makes it difficult to read and see fine details. Over time, vision loss increases significantly," the doctor explained.

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Dr. Sachdev also noted that vision loss due to smoking does not have any symptoms like many other eye diseases. Nevertheless, an extended examination can detect eye diseases in their early stages before vision loss happens.

Some other types of eye-related problems, including cataracts and glaucoma, are also caused by excessive smoking.

"People who smoke in excess like 10 cigarettes a day have up to three times the risk of cataract as non-smokers. Similarly, there is a strong nexus between glaucoma and smoking," said Dr. Sachdev.

In regards to prevention, Dr. Ritika Sachdev, Additional Director of the Medical Services at Centre for Sight, said that people need to be aware of the strong link between smoking and vision loss.

"First of all, it is important for people to either quit smoking or reduce the frequency. Not just lungs and throat but the eye nerves too get damaged in the entire process," she said.

If any smoker finds that straight lines appear wavy and faded, or can't see things in the distance, or notices water dripping from their eyes constantly — it's time to seek professional help, the doctor added.

"One of the major areas that need to be emphasized for all smokers includes eating healthy. Protecting your eyes starts with a healthy balanced diet. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and vitamins C and E might help ward off age-related vision problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts due to smoking," Dr. Ritika Sachdev said.

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