How smoking can affect your unborn child’s vision

It is widely known that smoking during pregnancy is harmful to your unborn child.  When you smoke during pregnancy, harmful toxins are transmitted to the placenta with the potential to harm your baby.  What is maybe not so widely known is how smoking can affect the development of your baby’s eyes and how the chances of your child developing different eye disorders is increased. Women who smoke are much more likely to give birth prematurely, which also puts the baby at greater risk of eye problems than full-term babies.


What eye problems could my baby have?

Some of these eye disorders include:

  • Bacterial meningitis. A condition that causes tissues around the brain to swell, your child is five times more likely to get bacterial meningitis if you smoke during pregnancy.  It can cause eye infections and other vision problems in your child.
  • Strabismus (crossed eyes). Research has shown that cigarette smoking is a serious risk factor for crossed eyes, a condition where the eyes do not properly align with each other.
  • Optic nerve development. Smoking is believed to affect the development of the optic nerve, which is made up of what is known as the retinal nerve fibre layer.  When this retinal nerve fibre layer is too thin there is an increased risk of vision impairment and studies have shown that smoking during pregnancy is associated with a thinner retinal nerve fibre layer in babies with a resulting effect on the optic nerve and its connections to the retina.
  • Retinopathy of prematurity. Smoking during pregnancy can lead to premature birth, which can lead to this serious eye problem.  This causes the blood vessels in the eye to grow abnormally and spread through the retina.  These vessels are fragile and leak blood into the eye.  Scar tissue can form and pull the retina away from the back of the eye, causing vision loss.

Toddlers and children are also at risk from second-hand smoke and could be susceptible to eye damage.  There is a study that suggests that children as young as 6 years old already show signs of eye damage.


If you are considering having a baby, quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do, not only for the sake of your unborn child, but because of the benefit you yourself will obtain in the reduction of the risk of eye disease and vision loss.

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