Vaping and Ocular Surface Disease

Posted by: West Georgia Eye Care Center in Frontpage Article on September 13, 2019

The CDC is investigating at least 6 deaths and around 400 “probable” or “confirmed” cases of a mysterious illness suspected to be caused by vaping. U.S. health officials are urging people to avoid using e-cigarettes and vaping products. The heightened alarm raised by the confirmation of related deaths has appropriately prompted lawmakers to call for stricter regulation.

Passion for prevention…

For over 60 years, the physicians at West Georgia Eye Care Center have advised patients not to smoke, and likewise, we advise anyone who “vapes” or uses e-cigarettes to cease their use. The medical risks of traditional smoking have been well known for years; similar (and even greater) risks of e-cigarettes are now becoming evident. Diagnosing and treating diseases and conditions of the eye is our specialty, but prevention is our passion. Stopping smoking and vaping removes one significant risk factor for general health, including ocular surface disease.

Investigative Studies…

The Johnson & Johnson Ocular Surface and Visual Optics Department at Keio University of Medicine in Japan investigated the effects of acute passive cigarette smoke exposure on the ocular surface in healthy non-smokers. Researchers found that even after brief exposure, adverse effects on ocular surface health was evidenced by an increase of tear inflammatory cytokines, tear instability, and damage to the ocular surface epithelium. The surface corneal epithelium is the first-line defensive barrier to protect the eye, and is also essential for good vision. Continued damage can cause serious and long-term eye health and vision problems.

Also published in September, a small-scale study of 21 vapers and 21 healthy nonsmokers found moderate-to-severe symptomatic dry eye and poorer tear film quality among the vapers. Additionally, researchers noticed significant reductions of measures of tear film health. This study is among the first to publish categorical results of vaping and ocular health, though a 2017 study found some flavor additives in e-cigarettes contained chemicals that exacerbate oxidative stress and an inflammatory response, both of which may affect the eyes. So, too, high-voltage e-cigarette use may produce formaldehyde, another possible carcinogen and known eye irritant.

High Risk Group…

Of special concern is the high number of adolescents experimenting with vaping products, as younger people may be even more susceptible to risks than adult users. The Division of Adolescent Medicine at Stanford University warns that eye, ear and throat Irritation is common among e-cigarette/vape pen users.

At WGECC, we know that seeing young people with “pink eye” is common and seemingly unavoidable in school settings; but redness and inflammation from vaping is something we would prefer to avoid in the eyes of any of our friends and neighbors, especially as this could lead to long term consequences.

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