A recent survey has revealed that 53 per cent of people are not aware that smoking causes blindness.

The survey was conducted by the Macular Society in the lead up to Macular Week (26 June – 2 July), which raises awareness of the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK – age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

According to the Macular Society, smoking is the biggest ‘modifiable’ risk factor when it comes to AMD, with smokers up to four times more likely to develop the condition. Passive smoking can also have an impact on your eye health.

During Macular Week the society is highlighting the harmful effects smoking can have on your eyes.

Sylvia Webb, a Macular Society volunteer from Amersham, was unaware of the connection between smoking and sight loss.

Sylvia, aged 85, smoked for more than 30 years and was diagnosed with AMD in 1987.

“Most people realise there’s a possibility that if you smoke you might get lung cancer or another cancer, but they don’t know you could lose your sight,” Sylvia said.

“Had I thought I might lose my sight I would have been more keen to give up. I never heard of any connection and I’m still not hearing it really.”

Many of the chemicals in tobacco smoke are extremely toxic. These toxic chemicals are then transported to the delicate tissues of the eye through the bloodstream, where they damage the structure of the cells.

Cathy Yelf, Chief Executive of the Macular Society, said it was surprising how many people did not realise that smoking caused blindness.

“The message is often missing from anti-smoking messages, which simply concentrate on the life-threatening side effects of smoking. Sight loss, however, is a very important effect of smoking,” she said.

Cathy said if you smoked and had certain genetic characteristics your risk could be 20 or more times more likely to get macular disease.

For more information on macular degeneration, call the Macular Society’s helpline on 0300 3030 111 or email help@macularsociety.org.