Macular Degeneration and Smoking

BOSTON--Macular degeneration is a common cause of eye blindness. It's incidence is related to aging and it is the leading cause of severe visual impairment in the elderly. Macular degeneration has also been suggested to be related to genetics (family background), diet (including zinc and antioxidants), sunlight exposure, and heart disease risk.

The only treatment of macular degeneration is with laser and is limited to a select group of patients who have a certain type of new blood vessel growth in the back of the eye. Laser treatment delays but does not prevent subsequent loss of vision. To date no other proven prevention or treatments exist. Therefore, strategies which could emphasize prevention are extremely important.

Two recent studies (one in men and one in women) published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (October 9, 1996) each found that cigarette smoking is an independent and avoidable risk factor for age-related macular degeneration.

The take home lesson from these studies for viewers of MedicineNet is that cigarette smoking does increase the risk for the development of macular degeneration, a serious cause of blindness in men and women. Further, this significant cause of loss of quality of life and cost to society has a prevention method--avoiding cigarette smoke. As suggested by the authors, this is yet another reason for public health officials to step up their "stop smoking" efforts.

For more information, please visit the Smoking and Quitting Smoking site of