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Great American Smokeout 2009

The third Thursday of November is upon us, meaning that it's once again time for the Great American Smokeout. This annual event of the American Cancer Society encourages people to give up smoking for 24 hours and donate money normally spent on tobacco to schools and the community. In honor of this event, we are going to take a look at the how smoking can affect the health of your eyes.

In adults, the two most common conditions that have been linked to tobacco use are the development of cataracts and macular degeneration. A cataract is an age-related clouding and yellowing that occurs in the lens of the eye that can lead to decreased vision as the opacity increases. The risk of developing cataracts in smokers is 3 times greater than in non-smokers. Macular degeneration is the loss of central vision due to age-related damage to the central retina, or macula. Smoking is an established risk factor for macular degeneration, with the increased risk also being 3 times greater than in non-smokers. However, smoking is not just a risk factor for macular degeneration, but has been linked by studies as a direct cause for the condition to develop.

Second-hand smoke can also cause a variety of changes to the surface of the eye, not only in adults, but more so in children. These changes include altering tear composition and decreasing tear secretion, thus leading to itching, redness and irritation. In adults, this can lead to severe dry eye. In children, this can increase the occurrence of allergic conjunctivitis. Allergic conjunctivitis is ocular irritation and discomfort due to reaction to an environmental allergen, such as second-hand smoke. The chances of developing allergic conjunctivitis increases by 20% in children exposed to smoking.

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