Commentary by Tammy Wittmann
Most people know diabetes can cause blindness, but did you know that smoking can? Did you know that sun exposure in the off-peak hours can be more harmful to vision than that of peak hours? Did you know that high cholesterol and hypertension can also cause blindness?
There are many eye diseases which used to be only related to age like cataracts, and macular degeneration. But due to many of the lifestyle choices that we make, we are seeing these and other eye diseases earlier.
Smoking is probably the most surprising to patients. There is a large correlation between smoking and cataracts and macular degeneration, and because smoking raises your risk for cardiovascular disease, strokes in the eye can cause blindness. The more you smoke the higher the risk. Smoking also increases the risk of serious vision loss in someone who already has other eye diseases. But the good news is that after you quit smoking, the risk becomes almost as low as for those who never smoked.
We all know to avoid direct sun exposure, especially during the peak hours of the day. However, reflected sun rays are the ones that can do a lot of harm. And because the sun is at a lower point in the sky during off-peak hours, we get more reflected light into the eye during that time. UV rays from the sun is very damaging in and around the eye and can cause macular degeneration, cataracts, dry eye and even cancer in and around the eye.
And lastly, many systemic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol are all vascular diseases which affect the tiny vasculature in the eyes. With diabetes the blood vessels become leaky and we see a lot of bleeding in the eyes. With cardiovascular diseases you can have a blockage, which can cause a stroke inside the eye, leading to vision loss.
We cannot control our genetics but we can control our lifestyle choices. It’s important to eat well, exercise, stop smoking and wear protective coverings. It is equally important to have your annual eye examination since most eye diseases do not present symptoms until it’s too late.