Vaping and Smoking Can Cause Eye Problems



About 28.3 million people in the United States smoke cigarettes. Smoking causes disability and disease and damages almost every organ system in the body. We’ve known for decades that smoking can cause health problems and damage the eyes, but the combination of smoking and vaping can pose a heightened threat to eye tissues.

How Are E-Cigarettes Different Than Cigarettes?

Regular tobacco cigarettes contain more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic. E-cigarettes heat nicotine from tobacco, flavorings and chemicals to create an aerosol. Vaping is more popular among young people. Reports indicate, however, that 40 percent of high school and middle school students use two or more tobacco products.

Vaping has risks that are different from smoking,” said J. Kevin McKinney, MD. “Vaping solutions often have much higher nicotine levels than cigarettes. While they do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, they do have other chemicals with known and unknown negative effects. We are still learning the type and magnitude of the risks of e-cigarettes.”

Study Reports More Severe Symptoms for Dual Users

A recent study found that young people who smoke and vape are more likely to experience pain, redness, dryness, blurred vision, headaches and sensitivity to light. Symptoms were worse for adolescents and young adults who smoked both cigarettes and e-cigarettes, compared with those who only smoked one type.

The study examined more than 4,000 people aged 13-24 about their smoking habits in the last month, week or ever. About 900 participants said they smoked cigarettes and/or vaped in the last week.

Among the respondents who vaped, 55.9 percent said they also used cigarettes. Dual users of cigarettes and e-cigarettes had more frequent and severe eye symptoms compared to users of only one type of product.

The research team suspects that eye issues caused by vaping and cigarettes are being caused by oxidative damage. When combustion occurs in cigarettes and the e-cigarette solvent propylene glycol, the reaction creates free radicals, causing oxidative stress, which damages the eye surface.

The findings of this study were observational and cannot confirm that dual use definitely causes eye damage, but they do provide additional strong reasons to stop smoking or never begin the habit.

Smoking and Vaping Can Worsen Existing Eye Conditions

If you have eye problems presently, smoking or vaping could exacerbate them. Here are some eye issues that could get worse with the use of cigarettes or e-cigarettes:

  1. Dry eye — Smoking can leave your eyes feeling more irritated, scratchy or stinging.
  2. Diabetic retinopathy — Smokers who have diabetes are more likely to damage the blood vessels of the eyes, which causes blurred vision and vision loss.
  3. Cataracts — Smoking increases oxidative stress, which may cause cataracts to form more quickly.
  4. Optic nerve problems — Smoking can damage the optic nerve, which sends visual images to the brain. Glaucoma is a family of diseases characterized by optic nerve damage.
  5. Macular degeneration — This is a problem with the central retina, the part of the eye that allows us to see images clearly. There is a strong link between smoking and the worsening of macular degeneration. 

Schedule Annual Comprehensive Eye Exams

Your eye health is a gift that is easy to take for granted. We rely on clear vision to do almost every task in our day. Annual eye exams are essential because good eyesight can improve the quality of day-to-day life.

At a comprehensive eye exam, your ophthalmologist will check for the following:

  • Refractive errors like nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism
  • Focusing problems like presbyopia (gradual loss of your eyes’ ability to focus on nearby objects)
  • Eye diseases like cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

Do You Need an Eye Doctor? We Can Help.

If it has been over a year since your last comprehensive eye exam, you should make an appointment for an eye exam with dilation. Many people assume they only need to see an eye doctor when they have vision problems, but issues can develop slowly and without notice. Eye diseases are not always symptomatic in the early stages, but an eye doctor can diagnose them sooner when they are easier to treat.

Make a new commitment to healthy vision and make eye appointments for your whole family. If you need a new ophthalmologist, we can help locate an eye doctor in your area. A healthy lifestyle and annual eye examinations will help you preserve your vision for years to come.