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Mar 16

2017

What Drinking Can Mean for Your Eyes

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Whether it’s the way our culture socializes or just a strategy to stay warm during the dark and frosty months of the year, consuming alcohol is common amongst adults in our country. On average, Canadians put back 25 drinks each per month. Since it is likely you are among the 80% of the population who consume alcohol, FYidoctors looks at the positive and negative effects alcohol can have on your body and your eyes.

Drinking has been a part of human social norms since the fermenting process was discovered over 10,000 years ago, and so, too, has the debate about the effects alcohol has on the body. Some experts say that moderate drinking is good for the heart and circulatory system, and protects against type 2 diabetes and gallstones. Most notably, researchers have discovered links between countries that consume red wine and a lower prevalence of coronary heart disease. (If you were wondering, Canada is a beer-drinking nation).

But on the other hand, heavy drinking is a major cause of preventable death in most countries. In Canada, alcohol is implicated in 58% of fatal traffic accidents. Heavy drinking can damage the liver and heart, harm an unborn child, increase the chances of developing breast and some other cancers, contribute to depression and violence, and interfere with relationships.

What happens to your eyes when you drink?

When consuming alcoholic beverages, there is a lot more going on with your eyes than just the blurriness of ‘beer goggles.’

  1. First, your irises constrict and dilate at a slower speed, which is why drivers who have consumed alcohol have difficulty adjusting their eyes to the headlights of oncoming traffic.
  2. Then, your ability to define contrast in the objects around you begins to fade. Excessive alcohol intake can even trigger your eyes to twitch uncontrollably, a condition called myokymia.
  3. And finally, consuming alcohol can increase and exacerbate symptoms of dry eye.

On top of these health risks, abuse of alcohol can cause long-term damage to your eyes. Although not fully understood, researchers do know that persistent drinking can increase your risk of developing cataracts (when the lens of the eye becomes clouded) and age-related macular degeneration (when damage to the macula begins deteriorating your ability to view objects directly in front of you).

Complete vision loss can take place due to excessive drinking in the forms of a severe vitamin deficiency or tobacco-alcohol amblyopia. Because your eyes require vitamins to maintain healthy vision, liver damage caused by drinking prevents the proper absorption of vitamins. For instance, a vitamin B1 deficiency can cause weakness or paralysis of eye muscles, while a vitamin A deficiency can cause your cornea to thin, become perforated and dry, and cause blindness due to retinal damage. Tobacco-alcohol amblyopia, also known as toxic-nutritional optic neuropathy, can cause you to lose your vision without any symptoms.

Another factor affecting heavy drinkers is the risk they expose to babies in the womb. Prenatal alcohol exposure can permanently affect the eyesight of a growing fetus, and is associated to many eye problems related to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Specifically, the optic nerve doesn’t develop properly, resulting in eye coordination problems and a tendency for eyelids to droop.

However, studies have shown that drinking a glass of red wine, which is well within the moderate suggested alcohol intake limits set for both men and women, can lower the risks of common eye health issues like age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts. Red wine contains resveratrol, which is a phytonutrient that acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that researchers believe can help prevent blood clots, high cholesterol, and even blood vessel damage.

Weigh the good with the bad

Given how gender, medical history, and physical state all contribute to how alcohol affects your body, talk to your doctor about whether the risks outweigh the possible benefits. If you do consume alcohol, a good guideline is to stay within moderation, which is no more than two drinks a day for men or one drink a day for women.

The short-term vision-altering effects of drinking generally go away on their own, but if you are worried you may be suffering from some long-term effects, make an appointment with your FYidoctors optometrist.

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