Help patients achieve healthy vision through healthy lifestyle
Excerpted from page 56 of the January/February 2015 edition of AOA Focus
May 31 is World No Tobacco Day, developed by the World Health Organization to raise awareness of the health risks associated with tobacco use. And when it comes to the risk of vision impairment, a patient's lifestyle choices—such as smoking—play a part.
"This study gives us yet another reason to communicate the message about nonsmoking to patients."
Quantifying the role of those choices has been a major goal of the Beaver Dam Eye Study, a longitudinal, population-based cohort study that has been ongoing since 1987.
Following a cohort of 4,926 people ages 43 to 86 at the study's launch, the study has collected data on age-related cataract, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, among other conditions. Based on an initial assessment and follow up every five years, the team examined lifestyle factors in relation to changes in best-corrected visual acuity (BCVA) over time.
The findings revealed that being a current or past smoker was related to a bigger change in the number of acuity letters lost over time. Specifically, current smokers lost 0.44 more letters over each five-year interval than people who never smoked.
The study also included results related to regular physical activity and alcohol consumption.
"It's important to note that even when incorporating factors such as age, income and conditions such as AMD and cataract, lifestyle factors were still associated with these outcomes," says Ronald Klein, M.D., M.P.H., a retinal specialist and epidemiological researcher from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health who has worked on Beaver Dam since its inception. "Our data suggests these modifiable risk factors affect more than just eye conditions."
Findings bolster messages
The findings may come as no surprise to ODs who commonly speak with patients about lifestyle choices.
Janis Winters, O.D., an associate professor at the Illinois College of Optometry who practices in Chicago, cautions that though the study population is large, it is also largely Caucasian; performing such research on varied populations is a future opportunity.
She adds that the findings highlight an opportunity for optometrists to play an increasing role on a health care team, flagging risks and communicating with other professionals about how patients can reduce them.
"For example," she says, "smoking is a big risk factor not only for ocular conditions but also for systemic conditions. This study gives us yet another reason to communicate the message about nonsmoking to patients—and also to better coordinate a quitting strategy as a team."
AOA member resources to reach patients
In addition to smoking's link with eye diseases such as macular degeneration or cataract, smoke is an eye irritant, and the tar and nicotine buildup on fingers can contaminate contact lenses. The AOA offers members information to help educate patients, including:
- What Contact Lens Wearers Need to Know About Tobacco Use public education and campaign toolkit (member login required), with template press release and suggested social media posts
- AOA Marketplace products, such as the Eye See Tobacco Free fact sheet, or the Don't Let Smoke Get Into Your Eyes pamphlet
Click here to find more public education and campaign materials to help community outreach efforts.