Alcohol Awareness Week 2017: Is alcohol damaging your eyes?

Nov 13, 2017 in Eye Care

Group of people clinking prosecco glasses

We all know the dangers of drink. From liver failure and heart problems, to stomach ulcers and mouth cancers, drinking too much can have a severe impact on our health and wellbeing. With alcohol causing thousands of deaths each year, and nearly 25% of the UK population drinking too much, Alcohol Awareness Week 2017 (13-19 November) seeks to throw a spotlight on the dangers of excessive drinking.

But How Much is Too Much When it Comes to Booze?

Guidance from the UK Chief Medical Officer, advises that adults consume no more than 14 units a week. That’s about a bottle and a half of wine or around five pints of beer. The clear lesson: if you drink, drink in moderation. Drinking too much can be bad news, but did you know that drinking excessively can also affect your eyes?

Distorted Vision

A short-term symptom but still potentially dangerous – and perhaps better known as ‘beer goggles’. Distorted vision is something you might have experienced after one too many drinks.

As alcohol absorbs into your body, it causes the coordination and muscle control between the eyes and brain (and other parts of the body!) to slow down and become erratic, causing double vision or distortions. But while this is temporary…

Permanent Loss of Vision

…this most certainly is not. Drinking in moderation isn’t likely to have any permanent negative effects on your eyes or body, but excessive drinking can lead to full loss of vision. Regularly imbibing too much alcohol can cause a condition called toxic amblyopia.

This is where the toxicity of alcohol damages the optic nerves in your eye, which relates images back to your brain. It can affect both eyes together, starting with some mild blurring and reduced colour perception, leading gradually to severe loss of central vision.

Bloodshot Eyes

Red, bloodshot eyes? Alcohol stops the body from being able to regulate its inflammatory response, making the eyes become inflamed. Alcohol is also very dehydrating; therefore the eyes will be drier becoming red, gritty, itchy and inflamed.

Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a condition that causes the important ‘macula’ part of the retina to break down, resulting in partial or even total loss of vision. Although it’s not been proven, the NHS suggests that consuming more than four units of alcohol a day over many years could increase the risk of developing AMD.

While we are often told that an occasional drink is good for the heart, excessive alcohol consumption significantly increases the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Cardiovascular disease is also a risk factor for macular degeneration, not to mention high blood pressure being a risk factor for diabetes and consequent diabetic damage to the eyes.

With the Christmas holidays approaching, it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the amount and frequency of your drinking. It might be more than you thought.

If you’re worried about your eyes, or have an eye problem that you think might be caused by alcohol or otherwise, we recommend you have them checked by a qualified professional. Eye checks are quick, easy and painless – and they can even be covered by the NHS.

Want to book an eye test?

Contact Leightons on 0800 40 20 20, or you can book an appointment online.