dilated pupil.

Everyone who’s ever had too much to drink knows that alcohol can give you blurry, distorted vision. But what exactly does alcohol do to our eyes?

Can alcohol abuse cause permanent problems to your sight? Read on to learn about the different effects of alcohol on the eye.


Short-term vision-altering effects

  • Slower pupil reaction. Alcohol causes the iris to constrict and dilate at a much slower speed. This becomes an issue for drivers who have been drinking as they cannot adapt as quickly to oncoming headlights.

  • Decreased contrast sensitivity. Being able to make distinctions between different objects based on lightness and darkness, a very important ability when driving at twilight, is impaired by alcohol. A new study from Western University in Ontario, Canada shows alcohol reduces the ability of the eye to adjust vision for brightness and contrast by 30 percent at a blood alcohol level around the legal driving limit.

  • Eye twitching. Eye twitching (myokymia), which is actually the eyelid twitching, can be triggered by excessive alcohol intake.

  • Increased dryness. Findings from a study by the Hallym University College of Medicine suggest consuming even a small amount of alcohol can increase and exacerbate symptoms of dry eye.

Long-term damage

  • Increased cataract formation. Multiple studies have shown increased cataract formation in patients with higher alcohol consumption.

  • Increased risk of AMD. The American Optometric Association identifies excessive alcohol intake as a risk factor for AMD (age-related macular degeneration).

  • Decreased vision due to vitamin deficiency. Heavy drinking affects the absorption of vitamins in the liver, vitamins needed to maintain healthy eyesight. For example, a vitamin B-1 deficiency due to alcohol consumption can cause a weakness or paralysis of the eye muscles. Or a vitamin A deficiency due to alcoholism can cause: night blindness, thinning of the cornea, corneal perforation, dryness, and even blindness due to retinal damage.

  • Tobacco-alcohol amblyopia. Also referred to as Optic neuropathy. People who drink excessively can develop this condition which results in a painless loss of vision.

  • Prenatal alcohol exposure. Unfortunately, excessive exposure to alcohol in the womb can permanently affect the eyesight of the baby. According to a review by the Emory University School of Medicine, many eye problems are associated with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome including underdevelopment of the optic nerve, difficulty with eye coordination, and the tendency for eyelids to droop.

Many of the short-term vision-altering effects from alcohol will go away on their own, but if you suspect you may be suffering from some long-term effects, make an appointment with your eye doctor immediately. If you think you or someone you know may have a problem with alcohol, the NCADD (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependance, Inc.) and Alcoholics Anonymous have many resources to help.

Nothing in this blog post is to be construed as medical advice, nor is it intended to replace the recommendations of a medical professional. For specific questions, please see your eye care practitioner.
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