How does drinking alcohol affect our eyes?
Even though drinking a glass or two of wine at night can have health benefits, having too much alcohol negatively affects our health. Anyone who has had a bit too much to drink knows that alcohol can impact the body short-term and long-term. But what does alcohol do to our eyes, exactly? Like with the rest of the body, alcohol’s effect on our eyes can have immediate and long-lasting impacts.
Short-term effects of alcohol on the eyes include:
- Lessened sensitivity to contrast: One of our eyes’ important abilities is being able to distinguish between objects based on darkness and light – this ability is particularly important when driving at night. This ability is impaired by alcohol; a recent study showed that alcohol reduces the eyes’ ability to adjust for contrast and brightness by 30% when participants were around the legal driving limit.
- Slowed pupil reaction: Like other reactions, alcohol slows down the ability of our irises to dilate and constrict. This slowed reaction would lead to difficulty in adapting to quick lighting contrasts, such as oncoming headlights.
- Dryness: Consuming even a serving or two of alcohol has been found to exacerbate symptoms of dry eye, as alcohol serves to dehydrate the body.
- Twitching: Eyelid twitching (myokymia) is sometimes triggered by the intake of an excessive amount of alcohol.
Long-term effects of too much alcohol on the eyes include:
- Prenatal exposure: Just as it can be damaging to the overall health of a fetus, excessive exposure to alcohol can permanently damage the eyesight of a baby in the womb. Many infant eye problems, including difficulty with eye coordination, drooping eyelids, and an underdeveloped optic nerve, are associated with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
- Increased likelihood of cataracts: Several studies have shown an increased formation of cataracts in patients who consumed higher amounts of alcohol.
- Increased risk of AMD: Excessive intake of alcohol has been identified as a risk factor for age-related macular degeneration, leading to a loss of vision.
- Tobacco-alcohol amblyopia: Heavy drinking can also lead to this condition, also known as Optic neuropathy, which also results in vision loss.
- Vitamin deficiency: Excessive drinking hinders vitamin absorption by the liver, which can lead to decreased vision. A vitamin A deficiency, for example, can cause dryness, thinning of the cornea, night blindness, corneal perforation, or blindness from retinal damage.
If you think you may be suffering from any of these long-term effects on your eyes, make an appointment with us to get things checked out as soon as possible. If you think you or someone you know may have a problem with alcohol, Alcoholics Anonymous has resources to help. They can be reached at (248) 541-6565.