A recent study out of UCLA, published in the January issue of the “American Journal of Ophthalmology,” has found that Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) occurs more than five times more often among female smokers over 80-years-old compared to non-smoking women of the same age. Although this recent study was gender and age specific, this study was the first I had read that causally related smoking cigarettes and potential blindness. It also made me wonder if there is any ailment to which smoking cigarettes will not eventually be linked.
AMD is a disease that causes blurring of one’s central vision, resulting from damage to the nerve cells contained in a small area in the back of the eye. That small area in the back of the eye, known as the macula, enables one to see the fine detail in things that the eyes are focusing on. Macular degeneration makes it harder to do things that require central vision; life activities such as driving, reading and facial recognition become monumental tasks. Smoking cigarettes, according to a 2005 study published in the Eye journal contributes to this damage and subsequent degeneration by decreasing blood and oxygen flow to the eye, resulting in mini-clots in the macula.
If challenged, cigarette advocates would surely refute such findings, citing age as the cause of AMD rather than cigarettes. Certainly, as its name would suggest, age is a risk factor for AMD; but experts believe that the risk begins as early as age 50. And what is undeniable is, like the effects of age on the body, the damage from smoking is likewise cumulative over time. Put another way, according to Michael Rosenberg, M.D., chairman of ophthalmology at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, “the older you get, the higher the risk for AMD itself, regardless of smoking, that age combined with more time smoking increases your risk.” And according to the UCLA study the increased risk can eventually be as much as five-fold.
Not that smokers need another disease caused by cigarette addiction, but add potential blindness to the laundry list of injuries suffered by them. I wonder how long tobacco companies have known this?