Eye expert leads calls for blindness warnings on cigarettes

May 2, 2012

An eye expert based at Southampton’s university hospitals has called for new health warnings on cigarettes to highlight smokers’ increased risk of blindness.

Andrew Lotery, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Southampton and consultant ophthalmologist at Southampton General Hospital, also said genetic testing for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the leading cause of blindness in the western world – could help cut the number of smokers.

He spoke out after new research, published in journal Eye, which found less than half of patients in Southampton (47%) were aware of the link between smoking and eye disease, but more than two-thirds (67%) would be likely to or would definitely quit smoking if told they had a high genetic risk of developing AMD.

Smokers, in addition to being four times more likely to develop the condition compared to past or non-smokers, are further exposed if they have a high genetic risk factor and it is estimated smoking contributes to around 20% of blindness in people over 50.

“While people are well aware smoking is a leading cause of cancer, respiratory problems and heart disease, there is little knowledge of its association with AMD and blindness,” says Prof Lotery.

“Eye health has long been the victim of apathy within health services across the world and, in turn, this has led to the growth of a culture of neglect among individuals unaware of the consequences of their actions.”

AMD, which can be either ‘wet’ or ‘dry’, occurs when the cells of the macula become damaged and stop working. Although wet macular degeneration can be stabilised using a new class of drugs called anti-VEGF agents, there is no cure or treatment for dry AMD, the most common form.

More than three-quarters (75.5%) of participants said they would consider taking a genetic test for AMD, which affects one in three elderly people by the age of 75, but Prof Lotery said the need for more general guidance is the immediate priority among ophthalmologists.

“Although our primary aim was to discover whether or not knowledge of genetic risk for AMD could influence the motivation to quit smoking and to begin to investigate the advantages and disadvantages of routine genetic testing, it is clear there is a wider need to alert people of the link between smoking and ,” he said.

“The immediate priority is to ensure all smokers, regardless of genetic factors, are aware of the dangers and I am calling for serious consideration of warnings on cigarette packets akin to those introduced in Australia in 2006 which led to a doubling of the number of requests to the country’s quitters service within a year.”

Prof Lotery, who established pioneering charity the Gift of Sight appeal in 2004 to fund his team’s research into complex eye disease, identified a major new genetic association with AMD – SERPING1 – which is faulty in up to 25% of sufferers in 2008 and is currently working on the development of stem cell therapies to treat the condition.

Explore further: The genetic basis for age-related macular degeneration

Related Stories

The genetic basis for age-related macular degeneration

February 23, 2012
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide, especially in developed countries, and there is currently no known treatment or cure or for the vast majority of AMD patients. New ...

Recommended for you

Drinking hot tea every day linked to lower glaucoma risk

December 14, 2017
Drinking a cup of hot tea at least once a day may be linked to a significantly lower risk of developing the serious eye condition, glaucoma, finds a small study published online in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

Newly published research provides new insight into how diabetes leads to retinopathy

December 7, 2017
An international team of scientists led by Professor Ingrid Fleming of Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany, and including Professor Bruce Hammock of the University of California, Davis, provides new insight into the mechanism ...

Researchers use breakthrough technology to understand eclipse eye damage

December 7, 2017
In a first-of-its-kind study, Mount Sinai researchers are using adaptive optics (AO) to analyze retinal eye damage from the August solar eclipse on a cellular level. The research could help doctors develop a deeper understanding ...

Combating eye injuries with a reversible superglue seal

December 6, 2017
When a soldier sustains a traumatic eye injury on the battlefield, any delay in treatment may lead to permanent vision loss. With medical facilities potentially far away and no existing tools to prevent deterioration, medics ...

Trigger for most common form of vision loss discovered

November 27, 2017
In a major step forward in the battle against macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss among the elderly, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have discovered a critical trigger for the ...

Scientists engineer drug delivery device that treats glaucoma directly inside the eye

November 23, 2017
Glaucoma, which affects over 60 million people worldwide, can seem easy to treat: medicated eye drops can be used to ease the buildup of fluid in the eye that underlies the condition. If glaucoma is caught early, eye drops ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Moebius
not rated yet May 02, 2012
What they evidently haven't figured out yet is that it isn't smoking that causes the problem but the eye being exposed to smoke. Take my word for it if you smoke, keep it out of your eyes. Believe it now or later, your choice.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.