The association between cigarette smoking and ocular diseases

Surv Ophthalmol. 1998 May-Jun;42(6):535-47. doi: 10.1016/s0039-6257(98)00002-2.


Tobacco smoke is composed of as many as 4,000 active compounds, most of them toxic on either acute or long-term exposure. Many of them are also poisonous to ocular tissues, affecting the eye mainly through ischemic or oxidative mechanisms. The list of ophthalmologic disorders associated with cigarette smoking continues to grow. Most chronic ocular diseases, with the possible exception of diabetic retinopathy and primary open-angle glaucoma, appear to be associated with smoking. Both cataract development and age-related macular degeneration, the leading causes of severe visual impairment and blindness, are directly accelerated by smoking. Other common ocular disorders, such as retinal ischemia, anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, and Graves ophthalmopathy, are also significantly linked to this harmful habit. Tobacco smoking is the direct cause of tobacco-alcohol amblyopia, a once common but now rare disease characterized by severe visual loss, which is probably a result of toxic optic nerve damage. Cigarette smoking is highly irritating to the conjunctival mucosa, also affecting the eyes of nonsmokers by passive exposure (secondhand smoking). The dangerous effects of smoking are transmitted through the placenta, and offspring of smoking mothers are prone to develop strabismus. Efforts should be directed toward augmenting the campaign against tobacco smoking by adding the increased risk of blindness to the better-known arguments against smoking. We should urge our patients to quit smoking, and we must make them keenly aware of the afflictions that can develop when smoke gets in our eyes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Eye Diseases / epidemiology
  • Eye Diseases / etiology*
  • Eye Diseases / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Smoking Cessation