Smoking increases the risk of losing your sight, ‘alarming’ study finds

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The habit could have a detrimental impact on eye health, new research has found – even if you have no pre-existing illness

Smokers could be exposing themselves to the risk of sight loss even if they’re not already genetic predisposed to it.

Poor lifestyle increases risk of sight loss, with smoking poses the biggest modifiable risk, the latest research shows.

But despite quitting smoking being the major factor, the study has found that eating more fruit, vegetables and fish can also help protect your sight.

Eye health experts have made the revelations at the start of National Eye Health Week (September 21 – 27) with a warning that unhealthy lifestyles are fuelling an alarming increase in avoidable sight loss.

The details, from a a new study published in the journal Ophthalmology, reveal lifestyle factors increase the risk of sight loss regardless of a person’s genetic make-up.

The research, led by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US, used healthy lifestyle scores based on diet, exercise patterns and smoking to assess a person’s risk of suffering Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) – the UK’s leading cause of blindness.

Results of the six-year study reveal the odds for AMD associated with having both poor lifestyle scores and a high genetic predisposition to the disease was three times greater compared with people with healthy lifestyles and a high genetic predisposition.

They also found that a healthy lifestyle alone was shown to cut your risk of suffering the condition by more than a fifth.

Smoking was found to pose the biggest modifiable risk to sight loss as the study found smokers who carry high risk genetic alleles, have smoked at least one packet of cigarettes for at least seven years and have poor exercise patterns and diets were four times more likely to have AMD than people who did not have genetic risk factors, ate a healthy diet, and got 10 hours/week of light exercise or eight hours of moderate activity.

David Cartwright, optometrist and Chair of National Eye Health Week said: “Half of all sight loss is avoidable yet forecasters predict the number of people living with sight loss in the UK will double to four million by 2050 and one in six of Britons will become blind or partially sighted by the age of 65.

“These figures are shocking when you consider that having a regular sight to identify issues early, including leafy greens and fish in your diet, being more active and quitting smoking could significantly reduce your risk of sight loss, even if you have a genetic risk of eye disease.”

National Eye Health Week’s six simple sight savers

1. Quit smoking. Smokers have a significantly greater risk of sight loss than non-smokers.

Toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage the delicate surface and the internal structure of the eye. This can lead to an increased risk of many eye conditions including AMD; nuclear cataracts; thyroid eye disease; dry eye and poor colour vision.

2. Eat right for good sight.

Most of us have no idea that what we eat can affect how well we see, however, eye-friendly nutrients found in many fruit and vegetables and fatty acids derived from fish, nuts and oils can all help protect your sight.

Vitamins B and E can help protect against cataracts whilst Omega-3 fish oils help maintain healthy blood vessels inside the eye.

3. Watch your weight.

More than half of all British adults are overweight however maintaining a healthy weight helps preserve macula pigment density, which in turn, helps protect the retina against the breakdown of cells and the onset of AMD.

Damage to blood vessels in the eye caused by excess body weight has also been linked to glaucoma.

4. Get fit.

Aerobic exercise can help increase oxygen supplies to the optic nerve and lower any pressure that builds up in the eye.

Reducing intraocular ‘eye’ pressure can help control conditions such as glaucoma and ocular hypertension.

5. Cover up.

Exposure to UV light increases your risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration.

According to the World Health Organisation UV damage is the biggest modifiable risk factor of cataract development.

Always wear sunglasses when the UV index rises above three and check your sunglasses filter AT LEAST 99 per cent of UVA and UVB light. Look out for a CE or British Standard or UV 400 mark when choosing your sunglasses as this indicates they provide adequate UV protection.

6. Be screen smart.

On average we spend a staggering 35 hours a week staring at a computer screen so it’s no surprise that 90 per cent of us say we experience screen fatigue – tired or irritated eyes, blurred vision, headaches and poor colour perception.

Avoid eye strain by using the 20-20-20 rule, especially if you’re using a computer for long periods of time. Look 20 feet in front of you every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.

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