SINGAPORE : The next time you cannot resist that uncontrollable urge to light up, consider this: On top of a host of life-threatening conditions such as lung cancer and heart disease, smoking can also blind you.
Studies have shown that compared to non-smokers, current or former smokers have a higher risk of getting age-related macular degeneration (AMD), said Dr Srinivasan Sanjay, a registrar at Alexandra Hospital’s department of ophthalmology and visual sciences (OVS).
AMD, one of the leading causes of blindness in Singapore, is a progressive, incurable eye disease which typically affects those above 50 years old.
Besides smoking, other risk factors include advanced age and family history.
According to a recent local survey led by Dr Sanjay, many people in the high-risk group have no idea that smoking can rob them of their sight, and do not go for regular eye examinations.
The findings were published in the Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology journal.
Of the 520 people surveyed, just 191 respondents – or 26.7 per cent – considered smoking to be a risk factor for AMD. And only 187 of the respondents – 36 per cent – went to take an eye test within the last year.
Smoking’s toxic effects can cause the retina to degenerate prematurely, Dr Sanjay explained. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The macula is the central portion of the retina which is important for the quality of our vision.
According to Dr Bakthavatsalu Maheshwar, a medical officer at Alexandra Hospital’s OVS department, there are two forms of the disease – “dry” and “wet” macular degeneration.
He said about 10 to 15 per cent of all those with AMD suffer from the “wet” form, which is largely responsible for severe vision loss. In “wet” AMD, abnormal blood vessels grow under the macula, and leak blood and fluid.
“Visual impairment among the elderly is a major health problem,” said Dr Maheshwar. With the loss of sight, he added, a whole host of problems such as falls, depression, social isolation and loss of independence may ensue.
As such, Dr Sanjay stressed on the importance of public education.
“An awareness of the link between smoking and blindness can help smokers reduce or quit smoking,” he said.
When informed that smoking can cause blindness, more than half – 64.4 per cent – of the smokers in the study led by Dr Sanjay said that they will attempt to smoke less.
The doctors urged adults, especially those who are above 55 years old, and those in the high-risk group to include eye check-ups into their yearly health examination.
“Eye damage caused by AMD cannot be reversed. However, if the condition is diagnosed and treated early, we may be able to limit the damage and visual loss,” said Dr Maheshwar.
By Eveline Gan, 20 October 2009 Channelnewsasia