07 June 2022
Alcohol consumption and your eye health
We’ve just had the long-awaited four day weekend to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, celebrated with street parties up and down the country. For many people, it was as much about indulgence as it was about paying tribute to our monarchy. Pubs and bars saw incredible trade from the Thursday to Sunday, and parties, concerts and festivals were held all over.
As expected, alcohol was a big part of the celebrations with a predicted 712 million pints of beer consumed over the weekend. This is equal to £2.9 billion spent in pubs and bars across the four days, and it’s no secret that drinking is a big part of life in Britain today. In fact, 57% of respondents in a Drink Aware survey had consumed at last one drink in the previous week, while an ONS survey revealed that 1 in 10 people drink alcohol on five or more days a week. All of us are aware of the effects of alcohol on the liver, but how many of us know the impact of alcohol on our other organs?
We’re going to take a closer look (no pun intended) into the ways in which alcohol can damage your vision and overall eye health, both in the short term and long term.
Short term impacts of excess alcohol
If you’ve ever had one too many drinks on a night out, you might be familiar with some of the ways your vision is affected temporarily. You may have experienced symptoms such as:
- Distorted vision
- Bloodshot eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Twitching eyes
These symptoms occur for a number of reasons, but the main effect of alcohol is that it slows down the speed of the neurotransmitters that send visual signals from your eyes to your brain. This is the process that helps us see but, when alcohol interferes with the process, it can result in fuzzy vision. Alcohol also slows down your pupil contraction reaction time. You might find that you might find that bright lights seem especially blinding after drinking alcohol, because your pupils take longer than they should to contract when faced with bright lights.
Bloodshot eyes are another particularly common effect of drinking too much, as the alcohol can cause the blood vessels in your eyes to widen. This means that they appear more visible and red, but they usually return to their normal state once the alcohol leaves your system.
Long term effects of excess alcohol
The long term effects of drinking too much alcohol range from earlier onset of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration to – in the most severe cases – death. It is estimated that around 3 million people die globally each year due to alcohol-related causes, and the number of people living with alcohol-induced illness and disease is much higher. Over 300,000 cataract operations are performed in the UK each year, while a further 600,000 people in the UK are living with AMD. It’s clear to see that these conditions are a huge problem and the figures are not helped by the heavy and regular alcohol consumption that many people partake in.
Other long-term vision issues caused by excess alcohol consumption over a sustained period are:
- Decreased peripheral vision
- Chronic dry eye disease
- Optic neuropathy
- Permanently distorted vision
The nutritional deficiencies caused by long-term heavy alcohol consumption, which can prevent your liver and other internal organs from absorbing vitamins, are thought to be the root cause of a number of vision-related problems. This is particularly true for optic neuropathy, a condition that causes loss of peripheral and colour vision. Too much alcohol can also lead to reduced oxygen intake, again affecting your eye health and causing conditions such as AMD.
It’s also important to note that many of the short term symptoms, as described in the previous section, can actually become more serious long term issues if heavy alcohol consumption is continued over a longer period of time. Like with most things in life, alcohol in moderation and small amounts usually won’t have lasting effects, but too much can have serious impacts.
Learn more about your eye health and alcohol
If you’d like to learn more about how alcohol consumption can affect your vision, you might find these blog posts an interesting read: