Sharing a celebratory or social drink with family and friends or having a drink to unwind at the end of a busy day is an enjoyable and relaxing experience. Regular overindulgence in alcohol may have more negative consequences and can lead to problems in both general and eye health. Alcohol can affect the eyes in different ways, with some symptoms having a short-term effect while the effects of others may be more far-reaching and sometimes more serious.
The short-term symptoms of excessive drinking are usually temporary and unlikely to have long-term implications for eye health.
Common effects include blurred vision, double vision, reduced peripheral vision and distorted vision, involuntary jerky eye movements and twitching of the eyelids. Because alcohol is a diuretic, it can lead to dehydration and dryness of the eyes, irritation, discomfort and increased sensitivity to light.
As a result of constriction of the blood vessels in the eyes, the eyes appear red and the blood vessels become more prominent. The suppressive effect of alcohol significantly lowers the reaction time of the pupils, changing the way the eyes respond to light and other stimuli, making it difficult to distinguish differences in brightness between colours and impairing depth perception and the ability to judge distances between objects.
The full extent to which excessive alcohol consumption over an extended period of time can impact the eyes is still largely unknown.
It has been linked to the early onset or development of eye conditions such as cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and dry eye syndrome. It has also been found to disrupt the transmission of messages from the optic nerve to the brain, resulting in distorted or double vision, reduced peripheral vision, eye twitching and involuntary eye movements.
Excessive drinking significantly increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, all of which have a negative impact on the eyes and are often first detected in a comprehensive eye examination. A tell-tale sign of liver disease related to alcohol abuse is the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes due to impaired liver function.
MINIMISING VISUAL EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL
It is thought that one of the main reasons for long-term damage to the eyes from alcohol abuse is vitamin deficiency, due to the body’s reduced ability to absorb the essential nutrients responsible for maintaining visual health. A diet rich in leafy green vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, lean meat and eggs is vital for the health of the body and the eyes.
Discuss taking vitamin supplements to boost eye health with your doctor or optometrist. Regular exercise helps to regulate blood sugar levels and improves circulation and blood flow, increasing the transport of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body and to the eyes. Balancing hydration levels in the body by alternating alcoholic drinks with water will reduce the short-term dehydrating effects of alcohol.
The end of the year is a time for relaxation and celebration and an opportunity for reconnection with family and friends. Enjoy this special time while remaining mindful of the effects of alcohol on the health of the body and the eyes.
This newsletter article is authored by EyeMark.
The views and opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the optometrist.