We have all heard that smoking brings about pleasing and enjoyable emotions. Smokers report that it helps to lift their mood; be it slight depression or in moments of anger, it provides a sense of well-being. All this is because of nicotine found in cigarettes that stimulates dopamine in the brain which is responsible for the feeling of pleasure. With time nerve cells become immune to this pleasure and smokers tend to increase their intake to get that desirable feeling once more. Despite this temporary good feeling smoking comes with devastating health effects slowly killing your body.
General effects of smoking
Cigarette smoke contains as many as 4000 different chemicals most of them toxic. These harmful toxins have been found in both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
Initially smokers tend to have bad breath, teeth with yellow or brown stains as well as smelly clothes and hair. With time they then get premature wrinkles, possibly have gum disease and have the ‘smokers cough’. The severe side effects are felt years later. Once a person begins to experience these signs and symptoms the damage has already been done. These include cardiovascular health problems, respiratory problems, pregnancy complications and cancer.
Smoking and the Eye
Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body including the eyes although the sight threatening problems are generally less well-known. Smokers are four times more likely to go blind in old age as smoking causes harm to the tissues of the eye and has been directly associated with 1 out of 4 Age related Macular degeneration (AMD) cases which causes severe vision loss and even blindness. The more you smoke the more likely you are to develop AMD. Smoking is the biggest controllable risk factor associated with AMD.
Smoking considerably increases the risk of developing cataracts, the risk increases with the number of cigarettes. There is also a relationship between smoking and the development of diabetes and the progression of diabetic retinopathy. Tobacco smoke affects the smoker as well as second hand smokers. It irritates the eye leading to redness, itchiness and worsening dry eye.
Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to give birth prematurely and increase the risk of their baby developing cross eyes (strabismus) and having an under developed optic nerve as well as retinopathy of prematurity among other health problems. Children exposed to tobacco smoke have a greater chance of developing allergic conjunctivitis.
It is never too late to Quit
Quitting at any age can reduce the risk of developing sight threatening and other serious health conditions. Someone who has been smoking for a long time still has hope and can enjoy the benefits of a healthier body, but commitment is key to success. To help one quit; keeping a journal helps identify triggers, alter habits and throw away things that remind you of smoking. Choose a relaxed day to quit smoking and tell someone about the decision to avoid feeling alone in the battle. Nicotine replacement therapy can help. Get support from former smokers. It may be hard to quit but having a healthy smoke free life will benefit the smoker and their family. There are other healthier ways to get that dopamine fix.
Carmen Marshall is an Optometrist who is committed to ongoing professional education, implementing the latest technology, and providing the most current and effective care to her patients. She earned a B.Optom at the then RAU (now UJ) and also holds a diploma in Schools Vision and has attended certified courses on Diabetic Optometry and various Contact Lens Courses. She has international experience and works to a very high standard. She is the owner of a private optometry practice in Harare.