Smoking and drinking alcohol are two things many people put on their list of habits to give up time and time again to help improve their health. While we know the harmful effects smoking can have on our lungs and drinking can have on our liver, many are not aware of the impact they can have on our eyes and ears.
That is why, as many take on the ‘Stoptober’ challenge or ‘go sober for October’ to raise money for charity, Specsavers is highlighting how this can also have a positive effect on two of our most precious senses.
Smoking can cause a plethora of complications for our hearing and sight.
Kerril Hickey, Specsavers optometrist, says: ‘Studies have shown that smoking can double your chances of developing cataracts, triple chances of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), increase the risk of uveitis (inflammation of the middle layer of the eye) and double the risk of diabetes, which in turn could lead to diabetic retinopathy.’
While traditional tobacco smokers remain the most at risk of developing AMD, research also indicates that vapour from e-cigarettes can cause irritation and lead to dry eye syndrome.
Mr Hickey adds: ‘Smoking can also lead to dry eye syndrome which can also be extremely uncomfortable as the surface of the eye becomes inflamed. This inflammation further damages the cells which are responsible for tear production, resulting in a vicious circle of increasing inflammation and dryness.
‘Another condition to be aware of is glaucoma. While there is no evidence that smoking itself is a risk factor for glaucomatous damage, older smokers do have a higher risk of developing increased eye pressure compared to non-smokers.’
Smoking can also damage your hearing, with smokers being as much as 70% more likely to suffer from hearing loss than non-smokers.
Orla Walsh, Specsavers audiologist, says: ‘Smoking can have a real impact on your hearing as nicotine lowers blood-oxygen levels which constricts blood vessels in the body. This can cause problems for your inner ear, which is where the sensitive hair cells live. These hair cells help conduct sound to your brain but if there is a lack of blood flow these can become damaged or destroyed. Unfortunately, once damaged, they cannot be restored, so neither can any hearing loss which results from this.’
Orla adds: ‘The harmful toxins found in cigarettes can also damage neurotransmitters in the brain which help interpret sound and in some cases tinnitus can also occur as nicotine can bring on a phantom ‘ringing’ sound.’
Just like smoking, alcohol can also cause symptoms of dry eye.
Mr Hickey says: ‘When you lose more fluid than you take in, your body becomes dehydrated. Our eyes can become dry and irritated and we can even start to get slightly blurred vision because there are not enough tears to lubricate the eye.’
He adds: ‘Tears are so important as they can wash away foreign matter that might come into contact with your eye and they also help reduce the risk of eye infections. The best way to try and combat dry eyes is by rehydrating by drinking plenty of water. Your optician can also recommend eye drops that can help too.’
Drinking alcohol to excess can also negatively impact our hearing too as Gordon explains. ‘High alcohol consumption over a long period of time can result in damage to the central auditory cortex of the brain which can then lead to brain shrinkage. The damage to the auditory nerve then adds up, meaning even moderate drinkers are at risk,’ he says.