I’m going blind from smoking
Smoking has long been known to cause heart disease and lung cancer. However, many do not realise that smoking can lead to blindness. For World No Tobacco Day today, JUDITH TAN (email@example.com) speaks to a patient who is losing her vision from smoking, and a student concerned enough to write a children’s book about the dangers of smoking
When her eyesight deteriorated early this year, accounts clerk Jenny Tan, 51, thought it was because she was getting old.
She didn’t realise she was holding reading material close to her face until her sister pointed it out to her.
The smoker was at a loss as to what could have caused this.
Until a doctor told her it was her love of cigarettes that was destroying her eyesight and she was going blind.
Today is World No Tobacco Day and it has been tough for Madam Tan to say “No” to tobacco.
She said she started smoking when she was in her 30s and stopped when she was pregnant with her daughter and after she had her.
She said she only started again about five years ago and smoked a pack a day.
Then at the beginning of this year, she noticed she couldn’t see clearly.
She told The New Paper on Saturday: “I didn’t realise my eyes were that bad until my sister pointed out that I was holding the magazine or paper so close to my face.”
Since her daughter was working for an optometrist, Madam Tan decided to have her eyes checked and get a new pair of spectacles made.
“That was when I discovered there was something more sinister than not being able to read the print in the papers,” she said.
Madam Tan was referred to an eye specialist, who broke the bad news to her — smoking had resulted in her going blind.
Her doctor told her not only does she have cataracts in both eyes, she also suffers from age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Cataract is the clouding of the eye’s natural lens and a leading cause of blindness in the world.
AMD affects the centre of the retina, causing “blind spots” and often severely impairs central vision.
Smoking significantly increases the risk of both eye diseases compared with non-smokers. For instance, studies have shown that smokers can have a three-fold increase in the risk of developing AMD compared with people who have never smoked.
Head of Ophthalmology and Visual Services Department at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital Yip Chee Chew said many patients are shocked when they were told they have cataracts and it was caused by smoking.
“The toxins in the cigarette smoke not only affect the lungs, they also have an adverse effect on various parts of the eye such as the macula, optic nerve and retina blood vessels.
“Smoking has been reported to increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts,” he said.
Fearing that she might never see again, Madam Tan said she will try to quit smoking.
“It takes time. I need to cut down slowly but the fear of not being able to see certainly acts as a strong incentive to do so,” she said.
World No Tobacco Day
The anti-smoking message is observed internationally every year on May 31.
World No Tobacco Day, which started in 1987, aims to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence from all forms of tobacco consumption and draw attention to the widespread use of tobacco and its negative health effects.
Every year, lung cancer causes around 1.6 million deaths worldwide and seven in 10 of all lung cancer patients throughout the world are smokers or ex-smokers.
Apart from the lungs, doctors warn that smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causes many diseases, and reduces the health of smokers in general.
This year, the World Health Organisation is calling on countries worldwide to implement plain packaging of tobacco products.
It said this reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products, restricts use of tobacco packaging as a form of tobacco advertising and promotion, limits misleading packaging and labelling, and increases the effectiveness of health warnings.