How does smoking affect your eyes?

Smoking damages the tissues in the eyes and can increase your chance of sight loss. Smokers are at higher risk of various eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma.

The link between smoking and cancer and heart disease is well known. Fewer people know that smoking can also affect the eyes. Smokers are at higher risk of vision loss than non-smokers, especially from age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Passive smoking and secondhand smoke can also affect your eyes.

You can lower the risk of developing various eye conditions by stopping smoking, which also has other benefits for your eyes, like reducing irritation.

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Smokers’ eyes

Smoking affects your whole body, including the eyes. Smokers' eyes are more likely to be affected by vision problems like blurred vision due to eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma. Other issues for smokers' eyes can include dry eyes, irritation, and damage to the blood vessels in the eye.

Can smoking cause blindness?

Smoking can significantly increase the risk of eye conditions that cause sight loss. These include age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma. Some, for example, cataracts, can be treated, but others cannot and may lead to irreversible vision problems.

Smoking also worsens some eye conditions, increasing the risk of sight loss, for example, speeding up the progression of diabetic retinopathy.

How does smoking cause blindness?

Smoking affects eye tissues in various ways, increasing the risk of eye diseases that cause sight loss. Cigarette smoke contains free radicals that reduce beneficial antioxidants in the body. This can increase the chances of damage to the retina, the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye. Smoking also restricts blood flow to the eye and can lead to fatty deposits in blood vessels in the eye.

Can smoke damage your eyes?

Any type of smoke, whether from cigarettes or fire, can irritate and harm your eyes. Smoke can cause eye redness, itching, and tearing, and these effects can be worse for people with dry eye syndrome or eye allergies.

Does your eyesight improve after quitting smoking?

There are many benefits to stopping smoking, including better eye health. When you stop smoking, you start to lower the risk of developing eye conditions, including cataracts and slow the progress of others like diabetic retinopathy. Get help to stop smoking from the NHS, which offers support services.

Glaucoma and smoking

Smoking increases risk factors for glaucoma, in which high eye pressure can damage the optic nerve causing loss of central vision (Source: National Library of Medicine).

Cataracts and smoking

Cataracts happen when there is clouding in the lens of the eye. Cataracts cause vision problems, including blurry vision, and can cause sight loss. Surgery to replace the affected lens is available. The heavy metals in tobacco smoke can build up in the lens of the eye, and smokers can be at triple the risk of developing cataracts (Source: Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery).

Can smoking cause other eye problems?

Several other eye problems are connected with smoking, which can also worsen existing eye conditions.

Frequently asked questions


Smoking can affect your eye health and is strongly linked to an increased risk of eye conditions, including age-related macular degeneration. Deciding to quit smoking can help lower these risks and benefits your overall wellbeing. The NHS has services to support people who want to stop smoking, and your GP can also help.

Medically reviewed by: The Royal College of Ophthalmologists on 23/08/2022

Edited by: Nick Astbury FRCS FRCOphth FRCP
Clinical Associate Professor

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists champions excellence in the practice of ophthalmology and is the only professional membership body for medically qualified ophthalmologists. The RCOphth is unable to offer direct advice to patients. If you’re concerned about the health of your eyes, you should seek medical advice from your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist.