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Eyes and Smoking Cigarettes

By Ashley ; Updated August 14, 2017

Smoking can damage many organs, including the eyes, which are complex organs that are effected from first and secondhand smoking. Individuals experience many different effects on their eyes from cigarette smoking. Eyes are affected by the chemicals that are released from cigarettes as they are burned. These chemicals affect the eyes through the bloodstream or directly on the eyes.

Firsthand Smoking

When an individual puffs on a cigarette, chemicals such as formaldehyde, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide begin to irritate the sensitive membranes of the eyes. These chemicals make the membrane, otherwise known as the conjunctiva, inflamed, causing what is commonly known as "bloodshot eyes." Some research has shown a correlation between cataracts, which is cloudiness in the lens of the eye, and smoking.

Secondhand Effects

Individuals exposed to secondhand smoke have many of the same eye health issues that individuals who choose to smoke do. After exhaling smoke, chemicals are in the smoke that irritate the eyes. Secondhand smoke irritates the eye because of the irritation to the conjunctiva. Smoke inhaled by bystanders can also negatively affect the retina because of the blood flow that is restricted by a contraction if the blood vessels, resulting in damage to the eye that affects eye sight.

Time Frame

Some of the effects felt in the eyes from cigarette smoking can be felt immediately. Cigarette smoke that hits the eye membrane can cause immediate irritation and redness. Smoke that is inhaled can take longer to restrict the blood flow to the retina, causing eyesight damage. Long-term effects such as uveitis, an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye; Graves ophthalmopathy, a thyroid-related disease disrupting muscle control of the eye; and diabetic retinopathy, blood vessel damage associated with diabetes are also known long-term eye health issues related to smoking.


Individuals who wear contacts experience unique eye health issues when smoking cigarettes. Contact lens wearers are at a higher risk for irritation of the conjunctiva, making an infection more likely. This irritation can make eye comfort much more difficult to achieve, which can have negative effects on your vision. Wearing contacts while smoking contributes to "dry eyes," or eyes that lack normal levels of moisture, which can contribute to eye irritation and make wearing contacts comfortably next to impossible.


The eyes can be affected by smoking in many ways. The external organ of the eye, specifically the membrane called the conjunctiva, can experience irritation and infection from smoke introduced in an external and internal manner. The internal structures that contribute to vision such as the optic chiasm in the brain can also be effected by the chemicals from smoking, such as the restriction of blood vessels and deprivation of oxygen. Graves' ophthalmopathy can worsen with cigarette smoking, resulting in losing muscle control of the eyes.

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