What You Should Know About Smoking After Lasik
As a smoker, you may find yourself in this situation. You want to get your eyes corrected with lasik, but you still have cravings for cigarettes. There are a few things you will want to know about smoking after lasik before lighting up a cigarette.
Everyone has dry eye in the short-term after lasik
Within the cornea are tiny nerves. These nerves are responsible for detecting dry eye on the surface of the eye and signaling to produce more tears. But after lasik, these nerves are temporarily disrupted. The lasik flap created below the surface of the cornea and the treatment break connections of these nerves. These nerves regenerate, but until that happens the eye has a decreased ability to produce tears. The eye drys out more.
When the eye dries out, the eye becomes more irritated. This creates extra inflammation on the surface of the eye. Extra inflammation on the surface actually will provide another roadblock to production of tears for the eye. In effect, inflammation is caused by dryness and inflammation causes more dryness. It's a repeating negative cycle.
After lasik, it's important to not only treat dry eye (frequently with preservative free artificial tears +/- other treatments), but also prevent extra inflammation from developing on the surface of the eye. The goal after lasik is to keep the eye calm and comfortable and prevent too much dryness from building up until the cornea nerves can grow back. This leads us into smoking...
Smoking & The Eyes
What does this extra dry eye mean for smokers? Well, smoke is a known eye irritant. If anyone has ever blown smoke in your eyes, you already know this. If you hang out in a smoky environment, your eyes become extra red and irritable. Smoking after lasik will cause more eye irritation. This irritation will cause more inflammation and dry eye. This is dry eye we want to avoid on the eye after lasik. It can prolong the healing process after dry eye.
Other noteworthy eye issues with smoking
Dry eye isn't the only thing smoking can do to the eye. Smokers have a higher incidence of cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, optic nerve problems, inflammation inside the eye, as well as a higher risk of eye problems with diabetes or thyroid disease! While some of these have treatments, many of these can cause long term vision loss. Check out the American Academy of Ophthalmology's article on smoking for more information.
Is marijuana smoking better than tobacco smoking after lasik? Well not exactly.
Marijuana smoking will produce less volume of smoke. There is less smoke irritation that will reach the eyes. This is the good news about marijuana smoke. Marijuana on the other hand will cause the eyes to become more red. The redness in your eyes after smoking marijuana is due to THC. THC dilates blood vessels everywhere in the body - including your eyes. This blood vessel dilation causes more blood flow to the surface of the eyes (giving the eyes the bloodshot appearance). But in addition to red blood cells, blood vessels carry also carry white blood cells (the cells that cause inflammation). Thus, THC can potentially increase inflammation on the surface of the eye.
More recent research has even shown an interaction between marijuana and cannabinoid receptors on our tear-producing lacrimal gland. THC can activate these receptors and further decrease the tear production after lasik! Not the ideal goal that we are looking for. Cutting back on smoking marijuana or ingesting other forms of THC allows for the most optimal healing after lasik.
What can be done to prevent smoking from being an issue after lasik
As you probably well know, the best solution for everything is to quit smoking. But you already knew that; that isn't why you are here. Quitting can be hard but there are great resources available to help you. Check out SmokeFree.gov if you've made the decision to quit.
But if you aren't quite ready to take the steps to quit, there are some things you can do to prevent extra eye issues after lasik from smoking.
- Goggles. It may look weird, but goggles are a really effective way to keep smoke out of your eyes. With a good seal, nothing is going to get inside the lenses and affect your eyes. But I already know that you probably aren't going to wear goggles every time you smoke so on to the next recommendation...
- Wrap around sunglasses. Almost like goggles. They still provide some good protection to keep airflow from getting in and around your eyes. They aren't quite as effective as goggles but they do win in the aesthetic department.
- Smoking Outdoors. Taking your smoke breaks outdoors allows the smoke you produce to blow away from you and not concentrate around your eyes. In contrast, smoking in a small room will rapidly cause the smoke to build up and irritate your eyes even more. Outdoors is just best.
- Cutting back with or without nicotine replacement. Taking less smoke breaks will reduce the overall cumulative effect that smoking has on the eyes. To help cut back, the nicotine cravings can be fulfilled with patches, gum or lozenges; all available over the counter.
- Frequent use of preservative-free artificial tears. In addition to everything above, when smoking, you should use be using more artificial tears. these artificial tears will help wash extra inflammation off the surface of the eye to help negate some of the extra irritation.
Smoking after lasik will prolong the recovery of dryness after the procedure. In general, it's not something recommended after lasik. But if you are going to smoke, it should be done as sparingly as possible and with extra precautions in place to protect the eyes as much as possible. But perhaps promoting the best recovery for your eyes will give you the incentive you need to quit...
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