The Association of Optometrists (AOP) has issued a warning that millions of smokers are risking their eyesight by continuing to smoke.
In conjunction with its new Stub It Out campaign, AOP released a poll which found only one in five people are aware that carcinogens (chemical-causing chemicals) from cigarettes can worsen pre-existing eye conditions and can even cause new ones. In contrast, of the 2,000 adults who responded to the survey, 76% knew of the link between smoking and cancer.
96% of optometrists surveyed say they examine a patient every month who has eye disease that they believe is the result of smoking. Annual figures from the Office for National Statistics show that there are 7.4 million people in UK who smoke. Over half (61%) of them have expressed that they want to quit.
Smokers are three times more likely to suffer from age-related macular degeneration, a condition that affects central as well as peripheral vision. And those who smoke are sixteen times more likely to develop blindness caused by optic neuropathy, where the blood supply to the eye becomes blocked.
For those with diabetes, smoking can make sight problems caused by the condition worse by damaging blood vessels in the retina. Smoking is also one of the risk factors for insulin resistance, which often leads to type 2 diabetes.
The AOP is urging the public to reconsider their smoking habits, emphasising that it is never too late to quit.
Optometrist and AOP head of clinical and regulatory, Henry Leonard, said that having regular eye check-ups with a specialist can identify any problems and they can advise on managing early symptoms before they become problematic later in life.
"There are of course numerous health reasons to stop smoking but we hope that highlighting these additional risks will give many smokers who are considering quitting that last little push. Whether you are a smoker or not, it's important to visit your optometrist regularly to have a full eye health check - so any conditions can be identified and treated early."