Smoking, vaping and your eyes: What you need to know

Stop SmokingSmoking damages nearly every organ in your body, including your eyes. The American Optometric Association urges consumers not to use tobacco or e-cigarettes, as smoking can cause harm to eye health.

Among current adult smokers, nearly 70% want to quit and nearly half tried to do so in the past year. That's why an event like the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout, Nov. 21, can help make a difference, encouraging those smokers to find the help and support necessary for quitting.

Smoke is a major eye irritant, particularly for those who wear contact lenses. If you smoke and wear contact lenses, the tar and nicotine that deposits on your fingers can contaminate your contacts when you handle your lenses, which can give your eyes a burning sensation.

In addition to experiencing problems associated with poor contact lens hygiene, plus the diseases already associated with tobacco use (lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and overall reduced life expectancy), individuals who use tobacco are more likely to develop eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

People considering other alternatives, such as smokeless tobacco, or electronic cigarettes, may erroneously believe they are less at risk. But there is no safe way to use tobacco. Smokeless tobacco also carries a greater risk of developing gum disease, mouth cancer and staining your teeth. While there may be some debate on the safety of e-cigarettes and vaping, they contain nicotine, which is highly addictive.

While traditional cigarette use is declining, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes small increases in adult e-cigarette (vaping) use (2.8% in 2017 to 3.2% in 2018) even as the prevalence of e-cigarette use among high school students soars (20.8% who report past 30-day usage). That trend is especially concerning as health officials scramble to warn the public against black market or tampered vaping products associated with a deadly, multi-state outbreak of lung injury.

Recommendations for contact lens wearers

If you smoke and wear contact lenses, be sure to follow these recommendations from the AOA:

  • Always wash and dry your hands before handling contact lenses.
  • Carefully and regularly clean contact lenses. Rub the contact lenses with fingers and rinse thoroughly before soaking lenses overnight in sufficient multi-purpose solution to completely cover the lens.
  • Store lenses in the proper lens storage case and replace your case every three months or sooner. Clean the case after each use, and keep it open and dry between cleanings.
  • Only fresh solution should be used to clean and store contact lenses. Never re-use old solution. Saline solution and rewetting drops are not designed to disinfect lenses.
  • Always follow the recommended contact lens replacement schedule prescribed by your eye doctor.
  • Don't wear contact lenses while swimming or in a hot tub. Lenses should not be exposed to any kind of water, including tap water and in swimming pools, oceans, lakes, hot tubs and showers.

To ensure your eyes are healthy, make an appointment with an AOA doctor of optometry for a comprehensive eye exam.