Alcohol vs Eyesight
Alcohol is a widely consumed substance globally, for some of us it is only consumed in social settings or as a means to relax or escape the real world but for others it can quickly become a very dangerous daily habit. While little to moderate alcohol consumption may have some health benefits, excessive drinking can lead to a wide range of health issues, and that includes problems with your eyesight
The Relationship Between Alcohol and Vision
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which in layman’s terms means it slows down your brain function and alters neurotransmitter levels. This can affect various aspects of your vision, including the way your eyes process and transmit visual information. Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to dehydration and nutritional deficiencies, both of which can negatively impact eye health.
Ways Alcohol Can Impact Our Vision
Temporary Vision Impairment
In the short term, alcohol abuse can cause you to suffer from temporary vision impairment. As explained above since alcohol affects the central nervous system, it ultimately causes a decrease in visual acuity, slows pupil reaction, impairs eye-muscle coordination, and causes difficulty with depth perception. These effects can make it challenging for you to see clearly, focus on objects, or judge distances, hence increasing your risk of accidents and injuries.
Alcohol is a diuretic meaning it increases your urine production and can lead to dehydration. Dehydration is dangerous, and one of its effects is that it can cause a reduction in your tear production which would result in you having dry, irritated eyes. Chronic dry eye can lead to corneal damage and vision problems if left untreated.
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to nutritional deficiencies, as it can interfere with your absorption of essential vitamins and minerals. In particular, heavy drinkers may be at a higher risk of becoming deficient in vitamin A, a very critical nutrient when it comes to maintaining healthy eyes and good vision. Vitamin A deficiency can result in you having night blindness, dry eyes, and an increased risk of eye infections.
Cataracts are a common age-related eye condition characterised by the clouding of your eye's natural lens, leading to impaired vision. Some studies have suggested that there is a link between excessive alcohol consumption and an increased risk of developing cataracts. The exact mechanism for this association is currently unclear, but it may be related to the oxidative stress caused by alcohol metabolism, which can damage the proteins within your eye's lens.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of vision loss in older adults, it deteriorates the central portion of your retina, known as the macula. Some research has indicated that heavy alcohol consumption may be associated with an increased risk of AMD, which is possibly due to the oxidative stress and inflammation caused by alcohol.
Optic neuropathy is a condition that causes damage to your optic nerve, which transmits visual information from your eye to your brain. Alcohol-induced optic neuropathy, also known as toxic optic neuropathy, can result from chronic heavy alcohol consumption and causes you to suffer from vision loss, difficulty distinguishing colours, and visual field defects.
Excessive alcohol consumption can cause a range of vascular effects such as high blood pressure that can impact your eye health and is a risk factor for several eye conditions, including glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
Finally, alcohol can cause blood vessels in the eyes to dilate, leading to you having red, bloodshot eyes.
Responsible Alcohol Consumption and Eye Health
To minimise the impact of alcohol on your vision, it is crucial to consume alcohol in moderation. According to Gov.uk, to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. It is also suggested that if you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it’s best to spread your drinking evenly over 3 or more days. If you stick to these guidelines it can help you reduce the risk of alcohol-related vision problems and promote overall eye health.
In addition to consuming alcohol in moderation, it is essential to adopt a healthy lifestyle to protect your eyesight. Here are some tips to maintain good eye health:
Maintain a Balanced Diet
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources can provide you with all the essential nutrients needed for optimal eye health. Be sure to include foods high in antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C, and E, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, which can help protect your eyes.
Staying hydrated, protecting your eyes from the sun, getting regular eye exams and managing stress are also great ways to help your eye health.
While consuming alcohol every now and then may not have a significant impact on your eyesight, excessive drinking can lead you to develop various eye-related issues, including temporary vision impairment, dry eyes, and an increased risk of conditions like cataracts and macular degeneration. Consuming alcohol responsibly, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and getting regular eye exams can help ensure your vision isn’t affected. It is advised to drink responsibly, if you have concerns about your alcohol consumption or its potential impact on your eyesight, consult your eye care professional or a healthcare provider for personalised advice.
Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 1 Jun 2023, Last modified: 6 Jun 2023