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Can alcohol affect eyesight?

Posted: Jan 25 2018

What happens to our eyes when we drink alcohol

Here, we’ll take a look at the links between alcohol and eyesight, examining whether drinking alcohol can actually lead to long-term damage.

If you’ve ever experienced blurred eyesight after having one too many to drink, you won’t be surprised to learn that alcohol can have an effect on the way that our eyes focus.

Here’s what happens to our eyes when we drink:

  • Dilated pupils. Because alcohol relaxes muscles all over the body, it causes the pupils to dilate as the muscles in the iris expand.
  • Poor focus. Too much alcohol can affect the way that the muscles in the eye work together and react to signals from the brain – leading to blurry vision and an inability to focus.
  • Slower reactions to light. Normally, when we enter a darkened environment, our eyes dilate to take in more light. Conversely, when we are surrounded by bright light, our pupils contract so as not to damage the retina. However, just as alcohol can affect the speed of our movement and reactions to other stimuli, it can affect the way our eyes react to light – meaning that our eyes can be slow to adapt to sudden bright lights or being plunged into darkness, after we’ve consumed alcohol. This is an effect that will wear off as the body processes the alcohol – so the more you drink, the longer it will last.
  • Have you ever noticed how some people’s eyes turn red or bloodshot when they drink alcohol? That’s down to the blood vessels in the eye expanding as a reaction to the alcohol consumed.
  • Dry eyes. Dry eyes are more likely to occur after drinking alcohol, because it’s a diuretic that makes you dehydrate easily.

man drinking at a bar

Can alcohol cause eye problems in the long term?

Many people are quite happy to accept the short-term symptoms they experience after a night of drinking – from hangovers and nausea to the effects that alcohol can have on the eyes. But could alcohol be linked to more serious eye problems, and can alcohol actually damage your eyes?

  • Those who drink alcohol excessively are at risk of developing cataracts.
  • If too much alcohol is consumed over a long period of time, it can affect communication between the brain’s neurotransmitters and the eyes. Messages between the brain and the eyes are slowed down, leading to double or distorted vision.
  • In extreme cases, drinking too much alcohol can lead to sight loss. Alcohol-related blindness is known as toxic amblyopia.

Steps to save your sight

If you are concerned about the effect that alcohol may be having on your eyesight, it’s never too late to take action.

  • Cut down on your alcohol consumption, sticking to the government guidelines of 21 units per week for a man and 14 for a woman. Remember to give yourself a few nights off alcohol every week.
  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach, and stay hydrated by drinking water alongside alcoholic beverages.
  • Get your eyes checked regularly in order to catch problems as they arise

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