Smoke from cigarettes, wildfires and other sources can harm the eyes as much as the lungs. Smoker’s eyes and similar conditions affect those exposed to fine smoke particles. Last summer’s Saskatchewan wildfires highlighted this risk, sending smoke that irritated eyes. Understanding smoke’s eye impacts and protective steps is key for residents and firefighters. This post explores wildfire smoke’s eye effects and similarities to cigarette smoke. Symptoms and strategies to safeguard vision in smoky conditions are covered. As a smoker or those in smoke-prone areas, this info is important to maintain healthy sight.

Key Takeaways

  • Smoke exposure can cause inflammation, irritation, and allergies of the eye surface, leading to long-term damage.
  • Preventive measures such as improving air quality and wearing protective eyewear are essential for protecting the eyes from smoke.
  • Regular eye exams are recommended to detect any signs of smoke-related conditions and seek professional help for diagnosis & treatment.

Understanding Smoker Eyes: Causes and Symptoms

Smoker eyes are a result of exposure to cigarette smoke and environmental irritants, such as wildfire smoke. These elements can lead to eye irritation, severe dryness, and even temporary vision changes.

Early identification of causes and symptoms aids in taking the right steps to prevent persistent effects on your eye health.

Exposure to Cigarette Smoke

Cigarette smoke contains tiny particles that can become lodged beneath contact lenses, causing inflammation and discomfort. This irritation can manifest in various symptoms, such as red eyes, eye pain, blurred vision, and even blurry vision leading to vision loss.

Reducing exposure to cigarette smoke and maintaining good contact lens hygiene are vital steps for disease control, protecting your eyes from these negative effects.

Environmental Irritants

In addition to cigarette smoke, environmental irritants, such as wildfire smoke, can also cause eye problems. For instance, Western Canada has been experiencing record-breaking smoke exposure due to wildfires. These environmental irritants can lead to inflammation, irritation, and allergic reactions in the eyes.

Protecting your eyes from these harmful elements requires actions like enhancing indoor air quality through central air conditioning and donning protective eyewear.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms experienced due to exposure to smoke include irritation, dryness, and allergies. Dry eyes caused by smoke exposure can manifest as burning, stinging, redness, filmy vision, and excessive tearing. Promptly addressing these symptoms is key to preventing potential long-term damage.

Maintaining adequate hydration can help alleviate the damage caused by smoke exposure. Additionally, artificial tears and ointments can relieve dry eye symptoms. Minimizing exposure to smoke and irritants, especially during high smoke conditions, is one of the most effective preventative measures.

The Impact of Smoke Particles on Eye Health

Smoke particles can have a significant impact on eye health, as smoke can cause inflammation, irritation, and allergic reactions. Furthermore, smoke exposure can lead to potential long-term effects, such as an increased risk of developing eye diseases.

Comprehending the diverse impacts of smoke particles on eye health enables you to take the necessary steps for eye protection.

Inflammation and Irritation

The small particles present in wildfire smoke can enter the eyes, dissolve into tears, and potentially cause inflammation and irritation of the eye surface. Dryness can be very severe, which may lead to cell damage on the surface of the cornea. This in turn can cause a decline in visual acuity..

Smoke gases can increase the evaporation rate of the water components in tears, while particulate matter and other toxins in wildfire smoke can increase protein production. This disruption in the balance of tear components can ultimately lead to dry eyes, potentially affecting blood flow in the ocular region.

Allergic Reactions

Smoke can trigger allergic reactions and exacerbate pre-existing eye conditions. Individuals with pre-existing eye conditions may be more susceptible to the stinging and burning eye pain caused by smoke from wildfires. In some cases, temporary vision changes may also occur as a result of extensive smoke exposure.

Conjunctival scarring, a condition where eyelashes grow back towards the eye and touch the conjunctiva or cornea, can result in trichiasis. Although this condition is relatively rare, it highlights the importance of protecting your eyes from the harmful effects of smoke exposure.

Long-Term Effects

While the long-term effects of smoke exposure on eye health are still not fully understood, studies have shown that smoking can increase the likelihood of:

  • age-related macular degeneration
  • cataracts
  • glaucoma
  • diabetic retinopathy
  • dry eye syndrome

Taking preventative steps to reduce smoke exposure and shield your eyes from possible long-term damage is of utmost importance.

Coping with Dry Eye Symptoms Caused by Smoke

Dealing with dry eye symptoms caused by smoke exposure can be challenging, but there are several strategies you can employ to alleviate discomfort. Utilizing artificial tears and practicing proper contact lens hygiene can help reduce irritation and dryness.

Artificial Tears

Applying artificial tears and ointments can provide relief from dry eye symptoms caused by smoke exposure. The correct procedure involves placing the dropper directly over the eye and dispensing one or two drops, followed by closing the eye gently for one or two minutes.

Choosing the most suitable type of artificial tears for your specific needs is critical, given that no single brand caters to all types of dry eyes.

Contact Lens Hygiene

Keeping up with good contact lens hygiene is key to avoid further irritation resulting from smoke exposure. Smoke particles can become trapped beneath contact lenses, leading to inflammation and discomfort. To protect your eyes, ensure that you clean your lenses properly using a hydrogen peroxide solution or a multipurpose solution.

In addition to cleaning your lenses, it’s important to follow recommended practices for contact lens hygiene, such as using the ‘rub and rinse’ cleaning method, avoiding sleeping in your lenses, and washing and drying your hands before handling your lenses. These practices can help minimize the risk of eye infections and corneal ulcers caused by smoke exposure.

Additional Tips

Additional tips for managing dry eye symptoms caused by smoke exposure include:

  • Employing natural remedies such as warm compresses
  • Washing your eyelids and lashes
  • Frequent blinking
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Using a humidifier

Implementing these strategies can help alleviate discomfort and protect your eyes as the smoke dissipates from the harmful effects of smoke.

Preventative Measures for Protecting Your Eyes from Smoke

Implementing preventative actions to shield your eyes from smoke is pivotal for preserving overall eye health. This includes improving indoor air quality, wearing protective eyewear, and staying indoors as much as possible during high smoke conditions.

Improving Indoor Air Quality

Air filters and humidifiers can enhance indoor air quality and lessen the smoke’s impact on your eyes. These devices can help moisturize the air, alleviate dryness caused by smoke exposure, and reduce static electricity in the environment. However, it’s essential to note that humidifiers are not air cleaners and will not significantly reduce the amount of smoke particles in the air. The most effective way to reduce smoke exposure is to eliminate smoking in the area.

In addition to utilizing air filters and humidifiers, ensure that your windows and doors are closed during high smoke conditions to prevent smoke particles from entering your home. Taking these steps can help protect your eyes and overall health from the harmful effects of smoke exposure.

Protective Eyewear

Protective eyewear like safety glasses, goggles, or face shields can effectively guard your eyes against smoke particles. Wrap-around sunglasses, in particular, offer a semi-circular frame shape that wraps around the head, providing peripheral coverage and blocking smoke from entering the eyes.

Selecting suitable eyewear with at least 99% UV protection and a high impact rating can offer the best protection against smoke particles.

Staying Indoors

Choosing to stay indoors during high smoke conditions can help safeguard your:

  • Lungs
  • Heart
  • Eyes
  • Nose
  • Throat
  • Immune system

From the damaging effects of wildfire smoke. Limiting outdoor activities and cancelling outdoor events can further reduce exposure to smoke particles. By staying indoors and taking appropriate measures to protect your indoor spaces, you can minimize the impact of smoke on your eyes and overall health.

Seeking Professional Help: When to Consult an Eye Doctor

Experiencing any signs of smoker’s eye like redness, irritation, or dryness, necessitates a consultation with an eye doctor to obtain a precise diagnosis and suitable treatment options. Regular eye exams can also help detect early signs of eye conditions related to smoke exposure, ensuring timely treatment and prevention of further damage.

Recognizing Warning Signs

Immediate medical attention is required when severe eye irritation, eye pain, and vision changes occur, as these are all indications of smoke exposure to the eyes. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s essential to seek professional help as soon as possible to prevent any long-lasting effects on your eye health.

What to Expect During an Appointment

During an appointment with an eye doctor for smoke-related eye issues, you can expect to be asked questions about your smoking habits, any changes in your vision, and any signs of dryness or irritation in your eyes. The ophthalmologist may also conduct a comprehensive eye examination, optical coherence tomography (OCT), fluorescein angiography, and a visual field test to assess the effects of smoke exposure on your eyes.

Importance of Routine Eye Exams

Regular eye exams crucial for overall eye health, facilitate early detection of eye diseases, correction of vision issues, and prevention and treatment of eye conditions. Regular eye exams can help detect early signs of smoke-related eye conditions, ensuring timely treatment and prevention of further damage.

Prioritizing your eye health and scheduling regular eye exams is vital to safeguard your eyes from the damaging impacts of smoke exposure.


In conclusion, protecting your eyes from the harmful effects of smoke exposure is essential for maintaining overall eye health. Understanding the causes and symptoms of smoker’s eyes, taking preventative measures, and seeking professional help when needed can help prevent long-lasting damage to your eyes. By staying informed and proactive about your eye health, you can ensure clear vision and healthy eyes for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does smoking do to your eyes?

Smoking increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and other eye diseases by causing changes in the eyes due to free radicals and heavy metal deposits. Smokers are two to three times more likely to develop cataracts and three to four times more likely to develop AMD compared with nonsmokers.

What are the visual signs of a smoker?

Smokers often appear edgy and smell of smoke, cough frequently, have yellowed teeth, wrinkles around their eyes, and nodular elastosis with comedone formation.

Do eyes heal after quitting smoking?

Quitting smoking can drastically improve your eye health, with studies showing a decrease in the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration after just 10 to 20 years. Quitting is the only way to halt or reverse these risks.

Can smoke get trapped in your eyes?

Smoke particles can become trapped in your eyes, so wearing protective eyewear is a crucial safety measure when entering an area with a large fire.

How can I protect my eyes from smoke exposure?

Protect your eyes from smoke exposure by improving indoor air quality, wearing protective eyewear, and staying indoors during high smoke conditions.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Smoking & tobacco use: Health effects of cigarette smoking.
  2. National Eye Institute. (2020). Facts about dry eye.
  3. American Academy of Ophthalmology. (2020). Smoker’s eyes.
  4. American Optometric Association. (2019). Smoking and your eyes.
  5. VisionAware. (2020). Smoking and eye health.
  6. Mayo Clinic. (2020). Smoking and your eyes: Effects of tobacco use on vision.
  7. American Cancer Society. (2020). Quitting smoking.
  8. National Institutes of Health. (2019). Smoking and tobacco use: Quitting smoking.
  9. American Lung Association. (2020). Quit smoking this year.
  10. Vision Source. (2019). Smoking and eye health: Protect your vision by quitting.
  11. Land burned in Sask. wildfires this year amounts to 5 times the size of P.A. National Park.


Photo graph of Dr. Conlon operating with loops on.

Dr. M. Ronan Conlon started his career in the field of ophthalmology at the same time as the development of refractive eye surgery in Canada. In 1996, he brought laser technology to Canada from Germany, which allowed him to perform laser eye surgery before it was available in the United States. With the establishment of the Conlon Eye Institute, Dr. Conlon has performed more than 40,000 refractive procedures and has advanced his expertise in LASIK and refractive cataract surgery.

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