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Are NZ Smokers Deliberately Going Blind?

New Zealand Association Of Optometrists

January 18, 2002

Optometrists are urging smokers to take early action to prevent blindness.

“We’re appalled that recent findings that show 20% of blindness in New Zealand can be attributed to smoking,” says research optometrist Amanda Field, “and people still aren’t getting their eyes checked.”

Optometrist Amanda Field was the co-author of a report published last year, which estimated the impact of smoking on eye disease, the first of its kind in New Zealand.

Blindness can avoided with early intervention. Optometrists are trained to look for smoking-related changes. Smokers must have their eyes tested regularly.



 Optometrists not only prescribe glasses, but also assess ocular health as part of eye examinations. The eye is a point at which vascular and neurological systems combine. Therefore the eye provides a non-invasive assessment of both those systems interacting.

 A common example is heart disease where the heart becomes blocked transporting blood to peripheral organs. Heart trouble will be evident in the changes to the eye. Optometrists can observe symptoms of heart disease, the early onset of diabetes, and age-related diseases. The eye is like a window onto the body’s circulation system.

 The commonest sort of diseases that affect the body will affect the eye. It seems the eye is the first part of the body to give way to age-related degeneration. Macular degeneration is an example where the visual changes will not always be noticed. From age thirty-five the degeneration process will take place.

 Optometrists can detect multi-organ diseases such as diabetes, localised disease such as brain tumors, and eye disease.

 Providing a diagnosis is like a jigsaw puzzle where the sum of collected evidence from the body will provide an accurate picture.

 In the Porirua region, diabetic patients are screened by hospitals for sight degeneration. Currently 2000 patients are awaiting assessment, and at the current rate of eight patients per week, won’t be completed until for another five years.

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