If you smoke, you should know this: Smokers have two to four times the risk of developing Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) compared to nonsmokers. Of course, no one can say if your smoking played a role in why you now have AMD, but smoking is almost sure to affect the progression of your macular degeneration and how you'll live out your life.
The good news is, it's not too late to quit—and you can do it.
How Smoking May Affect Your AMD
Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to become legally blind from macular degeneration. If you continue to smoke, you increase the chances that:
If you have dry AMD in only one eye, it will develop in the other one.
Your AMD will change from dry to wet, leading to vision loss.
If you develop wet AMD, it will be hard to treat. Smoking decreases the effectiveness of some treatments aimed at slowing damage.
Why is smoking so bad for the eyes?
Studies point to three ways that smoking may be harmful to your vision:
Smoking puts many toxic chemicals into the blood that can directly damage structures in your eyes, including the macula.
Good blood flow is necessary to keep your eyes healthy. Smoking decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your eyes.
Smoking reduces the level of antioxidants in the blood that help protect the eyes from damage.
It's Never Too Late to Quit
Anyone who's smoked and tried to quit knows how hard it can be. But people of all ages quit every day—and so can you. Be motivated by this fact: Studies show that even after a lifetime of cigarettes, quitting now may help protect your vision.
Age may be in your favor: At this point in your life, you might have tried to quit more than once and given up on the idea that you'll ever be able to do it. Don't be discouraged. It can take many tries to quit for good, and experts say you learn more each time you try. In fact, research shows that if you’ve tried to quit in the past year, you’re more likely to succeed this time.
Your cigarette doesn't define you! Even if it's a lifetime habit, smoking is not an inevitable part of who you are any more than other things you've given up doing over the years. Our lives change. Imagining yourself as a nonsmoker may be easier than the alternative: imagining yourself with limited sight.
Smoking is the No.1 preventable risk factor in losing your sight from macular degeneration.
How to Quit
There are many ways to quit smoking. You'll probably find that a combination of methods is the best solution for you. Whichever you use, quitting is most likely to be successful when you have a detailed plan: Set a date, prepare for it and plan activities that can help you deal with cravings.
Ask your doctor to refer you to a smoking cessation counselor who’ll help you create and stick to a quit plan. Health insurance will cover all or most of the costs.
If you prefer, try a free telephone counseling service: the National Cancer Institute's Smoking Quitline at 877-44U-QUIT or 877-448-7848, or your state's quitline—get connected by calling 800-QUIT-NOW or 800-784-8669.
According to SmokeFree.gov, the smoking cessation prescription medication generically called varenicline can more than double the chance of success. But medications can have side effects, and if you have certain health issues your doctor may advise against them.
Combining varenicline with in-person or phone counseling is ranked as the most effective way to quit — but the picture may be different for older people. Read on….
Nicotine replacement therapies
A small study comparing smoking cessation among people under and over age 60 found that older smokers are as likely to succeed at quitting with nicotine replacement therapy (also known as NRT) as with prescription medications. NRT drugs include nicotine gum and lozenges, the nicotine patch, nasal spray and an inhaler.
Some doctors recommend combining two NRTs or an NRT and prescription medication.
The government site smokefree.gov has a text messaging service that will send you two or three messages a day to help you stay on top of your plan.
Smoking creates free radicals that can harm cells throughout your body, including your eyes. Studies show that along with other nutrients, antioxidants, which fight free radicals, can help people with dry AMD reduce their risk of progression. That’s why many doctors suggest that smokers with dry AMD take an antioxidant-rich vitamin based on the AREDS2 study. The AREDS2 recommended formula doesn’t contain beta carotene, which has been linked to lung cancer in people who smoke.