Chew on This: Tobacco in Your Mouth Can Make You Blind

Sankara Nethralaya team finds craving for nicotine can result in a condition that can affect the central-vision of the eye

Published: 07th March 2016 03:31 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th March 2016 10:47 AM   |  A+A-

CHENNAI: If you need another reason for not consuming tobacco in any form, here is one: a study by a reputed eye hospital in Chennai has found that chewing tobacco regularly could cause partial blindness.

“While there have been studies in the West that have found smoking to be a risk factor for early and late Age Related Maculopathy (ARM), an eye-condition that affects the central-vision of the eye in the Western population, this is the first study in India that shows that even chewing tobacco carries risks that can affect eyesight,” said Dr Rajiv Raman, senior consultant, Sankara Nethralaya, one of the members of the research team.

In Age Related Maculopathy, the macula, a part of the eye near the centre of the retina the clarity of vision straight ahead, is affected.

C.JPGThe three-year study titled Rural-Urban Age-related Macular Degeneration by the Vision Research Centre of Sankara Nethralaya that was published last week in ‘Eye’, a science journal in the UK, was conducted to report the age and gender adjusted prevalence rates of early and late ARM.

The study identified two independent modifiable risk factors for ARM - hypertension and chewing of tobacco in any form. This was noticed more in rural parts of the country than the urban centres, the study noted, adding that early Age Related Maculopathy was more prevalent in those individuals in the higher socioeconomic groups in the urban population.

The study led by Dr Tarun Sharma, director of Vitreoretinal Services of Sankara Nethralaya was conducted during the period 2009 and 2011, with a sample size of 6,617 - 3,904 (60 per cent) rural and 2,713 (40 per cent) urban.

For the rural population, 16 villages in Kancheepuram and Thiruvallur districts were chosen.

The study found that the prevalence of smokeless tobacco was almost two times in the rural population when compared with urban population (27.9 per cent vs 13.7 per cent), and this could be the probable reason for higher prevalence of early  Age Related Maculopathy  in the rural areas (21 per cent as opposed to 16 per cent). The prevalence of late  Age Related Maculopathy  was two per cent in both rural and urban populations.

“It is estimated that nearly 275 million people in India are users of tobacco. It is known that along with genetics and environmental reasons, smoking is one of the risk factors of Age-related Macular Degeneration among the Western population. However, this is the first Indian study to show smokeless tobacco will cause AMD in Indian Population,” said Dr Raman added.

“Aging population is at a risk of developing ARM, hence every effort must be taken for prevention and early diagnosis so as to minimise visual morbidity. Good control of blood pressure and stopping tobacco intake, and creating awareness on tobacco use are the only prevention methods,” noted Dr Raman.

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