When you think of the damage smoking does to your body, you think of your lungs, right? Well, did you know that smoking can actually harm your eyes?
Tobacco has previously been proven to be linked to many leading causes of blindness and vision impairments such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration, but all of these effects occur in the inner part of the eye. A new study shows that smoking can actually harm and kill cells on the surface of your eyes.
Research from a recent study conducted by Wataru Otus, a biomedical researcher at the Gifu Pharmaceutical University in Japan, and his colleagues, published by Scientific Reports, found that the compounds found in the smoke of cigarettes and smoking devices cause an iron buildup in the corneal epithelium (the outer layer of corneal tissue on the eye), which can harm and kill cells.
In the study, the researchers exposed human epithelium cells to smoke extract of a cigarette as well as that of heated tobacco devices, and recorded their observations. The researchers found that after 24 hours, more cells that were exposed to cigarette and heated tobacco smoke were killed than those not exposed. They also found that smoking tobacco or using heated tobacco devices caused damage to the cells of the outer eye regardless of nicotine or tar being involved.
Ferroptosis occurred when the compounds in the tobacco made contact with the cells on the outer layer of the eye. The compounds caused the ferritin proteins inside the cells – which store and release iron – to break down and release the iron they were storing. Some of the iron that was released bunched up and produced hydroxyl radicals. Hydroxyl radicals are known to be a very reactive species that attacks organic molecules by removing or deteriorating them. In this case, the hydroxyl radicals attacked the lipids in the film on the surface of that eye, an event called lipid peroxidation. When these lipids are attacked and/or destroyed, your eye is much more likely to dry out, because lipids help prevent the eye from drying out due to their role as lubricators. This is why smokers tend to suffer from dry eye syndrome. When too many radicals accumulate and are damaging the lipids in the cell membranes, cells can die. The death of eye cells (aka photoreceptors) can lead to the loss of or impaired vision.
As a solution in the study, the researchers found that by adding chemicals that are known to block ferroptosis to the human epithelium cells, more cells exposed to tobacco were able to live, suggesting that ferroptosis treatment could help smokers suffering from eye problems.
Moreover, ophthalmologist Dilek Altinörs of the Başkent University in Turkey, who has studied the results of this study, also suggested that smokers experiencing eye problems should use tear drops with ferroptosis blocking compounds. Although, further study needs to be done on the effects and successfulness of this treatment method.
The findings of the study help one understand how and why it is that cigarette and tobacco devices affect the eyes of smokers, and show treatments for ferroptosis as a possible treatment for smokers’ having eye troubles. But the obviously best way to prevent smoking from harming your eyes is to not smoke at all. Having smokers learn and understand this new information will hopefully show them yet another reason why smoking is harmful, and why it is in their best interest to quit.