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Does Alcohol Affect Your Eyes?

September 22, 2017

The effects of alcohol on the human body have been documented in many different publications, but it seems like most often, the focus is on how excessive, or even moderate drinking can do harm to the liver or kidneys or to brain cells.

But one area that doesn’t get as much attention is the way alcohol use and abuse can take a toll on your eyes. The eyes are just as vital a part of the body as the other organs we mentioned above, and yes, alcohol can definitely have an effect on them.

Here are just a few of the ways that drinking alcohol can do harm to your eyes. Before we get started, it’s important to point out that extremely moderate, non-habitual alcohol use has not been found to do any harm to the eyes, and isn’t what we’ll be discussing here.

Muscle Weakness

Using alcohol over an extended period of time can hurt the muscles in your eyes, and that’s not all. Alcohol weakens the muscles of the eyes and can permanently damage the optic nerve which transmits visual images to the brain.

And the longer you use alcohol to an excessive degree, the more harmful it can be to your eyes, in ways you might not have anticipated. For example, prolonged alcohol abuse can cause involuntary rapid eye movement.

Slower Pupil Reaction

Alcohol can cause the iris to both dilate and constrict at a slower rate than normal. This means that the eyes cannot adapt as quickly to things like approaching headlights.

Decreased Sensitivity To Contrast

One of the eye’s most important functions is the ability to distinguish between objects based on darkness and light. Alcohol impairs that ability, with some studies suggesting that contrast can be affected by as much as 30%, even if a person’s blood alcohol level is below the legal limit.

Eye Twitching

The technical term for an eye-twitch, which is actually an eyelid twitch, is myokymia, and it can be brought on by excessive alcohol intake. It’s a temporary, but irritating, side effect of drinking too much.

Dry Eye

This is a symptom that can come about from drinking even a small amount of alcohol. A recent study revealed that an amount of alcohol far below the legal driving limit can cause dryness of the eyes to increase.

The effects we listed above are largely short-term, and typically take place around the time one actually consumes alcohol. Below, we’ve listed some of the more long-lasting and harmful consequences of alcohol abuse relative to the eyes.

Cataracts: Many studies indicate that the formation of cataracts increases when the patient being examined has a history of high-level alcohol intake.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD): The American Optometric Association has identified overindulgence in alcohol as one of the habits that puts people at a high risk factor for AMD.

Vitamin Deficiency: Excessive drinking can affect the liver’s ability to absorb vitamins, including vitamin B-1. These vitamins are vital to keeping one’s eyesight healthy and strong, and a lack of them can even lead to paralysis of the eye muscles.

Even more alarming, a vitamin A deficiency can cause thinning corneas, perforation of the cornea, night blindness, and even severe retinal damage.

Tobacco-alcohol amblyopia: With this disorder, which is also referred to as optic neuropathy, people who drink excessively in combination with tobacco use are at a higher risk of developing a serious, if painless, loss of vision.

Prenatal alcohol exposure: It’s important to realize that excessive alcohol can not only affect the user’s eyes, but those of their unborn child. A recent review by the Emory University School of Medicine found many eye problems associated with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and those problems included underdevelopment of the optic nerve, impaired eye coordination, and drooping eyelids.

If you’re currently experiencing some of these issues for any reason, contact us today and we can set up an appointment for an evaluation.

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