Smoking Among African Americans Poses Serious Risks to Vision Health

Tonja Ward | 1/17/2008, 4:08 p.m.
As debilitating vision disorders are increasingly linked to smoking, health officials are especially concerned that high rates of smoking among ...

While the dangers of smoking in relation to heart and lung health are widely known, few people are aware that smoking has also been linked to several eye diseases. Smoking is the second leading cause of cataracts and, according to VCA, smokers on average develop cataracts 10-15 years sooner than nonsmokers. Smoking is also identified as a primary risk factor for age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. Heavy smokers (a pack of cigarettes a day or more) have two to three times the risk of developing this disease.

Ophthalmologist Mildred M.G. Olivier, M.D. says the harmful effects of smoking on the African American community are disproportionately high when compared to other racial groups.

“In addition to having higher smoking rates, African Americans are also less likely to have access to medical care,” says Olivier. “They are liable to go without routine checkups - including eye exams - which can detect diseases that hit this community hard, including diabetes, hypertension and glaucoma.”  Eye exams can also prevent permanent vision loss by detecting serious eye diseases at the early stages when they are most treatable.

“Armed with this knowledge, African Americans can do two things that will immediately improve their health,” says Olivier. “They can schedule an eye exam, and those who smoke can quit. Taking these steps could save them and their families immeasurable pain, suffering and expense.”

There are several warning signs of potential vision disorders. VCA recommends that African Americans, both smokers and non-smokers, be vigilant for the following symptoms of eye problems:

·     Trouble seeing objects at near or far distances

·     Colors that seem faded

·     Poor night vision

·     Double or multiple vision

·     Loss of peripheral (side) vision

·     Redness and discomfort from a fleshy growth over the eye surface

The Vision Council of America is a not-for-profit trade organization dedicated to improving America’s vision health through its “Check Yearly. See Clearly.” campaign. For more information on vision health, visit www.checkyearly.com.