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Smoking could rob you of watching TV, reading and driving

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Smokers in the North East are being warned that they could be doubling or tripling their chances of developing the most common form of sight loss among the elderly sooner, unless they quit.


The warning that smoking doesn't just kill but can seriously impair your vision comes from Fresh, the Macular Society and the North East and Cumbria Local Eye Health Network for National Eye Health Week (22-28 September).


Smoking at least doubles or triples the risk of Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) – when central vision becomes blurred and distorted making everyday activities like watching TV, reading, driving and even recognizing the faces of family and friends more difficult or impossible. AMD also tends to develop earlier in smokers and there is no current cure.


But a 2013 survey carried out in the UK found that just 15% of smokers are concerned about the impact smoking has on their eye health. A study of UK teenagers found that only 5% identified smoking as a cause of blindness but, even at that age, fear of blindness was a strong motivating factor in quitting smoking.


Ailsa Rutter, Director of Fresh, said: "Tobacco smoke is composed of at least 4000 chemicals, most of them toxic and potentially damaging to the eye. Smoking is not only life ending but life limiting.


"Most smokers aren't aware smoking can lead to sight loss and it will be hard for many people to imagine not being able to recognise your loved ones faces, watch TV, read or drive. The best way to avoid some of the related sight loss is by quitting smoking and we are urging people to give it a go for Stoptober."


Tony Rucinski, Chief Executive of the Macular Society, warned North East smokers: "Macular degeneration is the biggest cause of sight loss in this country. 600,000 people have last-stage AMD now and another 200 are added to that number every day. Our age and our genes have a big impact on whether or not we get AMD, but smoking is without doubt a major factor.


"Smoking causes AMD, it makes treatment for AMD less effective and it doubles the risk of AMD even in people who only breathe other people's smoke. Yet many people don't even know there's a link between smoking and blindness. Your sight is precious. Don't smoke your sight away."


Mr Ibraheem El–Ghrably, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at James Cook University Hospital, who represents the North East and Cumbria Local Eye Health Network, said: "Age related macular degeneration tends to develop earlier in smokers and there is no current cure. It has a severe impact on many of the basic activities of daily living such as driving, recognizing faces and reading. Therefore, it robs affected individuals of their independence in their retirement years.


"Whilst AMD is affected by age and others factors, smoking is the biggest modifiable risk factor for AMD – by stopping smoking you will reduce your chance of getting AMD and of AMD progressing.


"Although treatment such as regular eye injections can often stabilise vision in those who have AMD, it cannot reverse the permanent retinal damage caused by smoking and other risk factors."


Cigarette smoke contains over 4000 harmful chemicals, such as arsenic, formaldehyde and ammonia. These chemicals reach the delicate tissues of the eye through the bloodstream, where they damage the structure of the cells. Repeatedly exposing delicate retinal cells to these oxidants is effectively fast-forwarding the ageing process.


Cigarette smoke reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the choroid, a dense network of tiny blood vessels that supply the retina. Smoking also damages blood vessels themselves (ranging from the large blood vessels in the heart to the tiny ones in the eye), and causes high blood pressure which is another risk factor for macular degeneration.


Smoking also increases the risk of developing other eye problems such as cataracts - a major cause of sight loss in the UK, and can make diabetic related sight problems worse.


A person stopping smoking for 28 days is five times more likely to stay smokefree. Someone who stops and doesn't smoke again, could gain an extra seven days of life, every 28 days, for the rest of their life. Stopping smoking saves the average smoker over £150 a month and almost £2,000 a year.


Anyone wanting to quit can take advantage of free support including a Stoptober support pack, a daily messaging service and Stoptober mobile app. To register all you have to do is click on