Many people who see themselves as “social drinkers” are at risk of developing long-term health conditions because of the amount they regularly drink.  Most drinkers are unaware that regularly drinking alcohol can lead to a wide range of long-term health problems, including cancers, strokes and heart attacks. Regularly drinking does not mean binge drinking or regularly getting drunk, which can clearly cause long term health issues.  Regularly drinking can be defined as 3 daily alcoholic beverages for men or two for women.  This includes wine which is a staple for many Americans at their evening meal.

We all know alcohol can affect our bodies negatively, and these effects can be both short and long term. But what exactly does alcohol do to our eyes? Alcohol can definitely have short term vision-altering effects, but what about repeated exposure to alcohol? Are there any permanent effects that you need to worry about?

With respect to short term vision effects, drinking too much can alter your peripheral vision, causing you to have tunnel vision. Your pupils react more slowly, so they will not be able to constrict or open up as well. This can make driving very difficult, since you can’t react well to headlights.

Alcohol can also alter your ability to see contrast.  Researchers in Australia found that drinking the legal limit of alcohol greatly affected the ability for subject’s eyes to adjust for brightness and contrast by 30 percent.  According to researchers, it’s the way our visual system processes contrast or brightness differences that creates this short term disability.  Through the study the researchers were able to show that contrast is reduced by 30 percent at a blood alcohol level around the legal driving limit. This means that making distinctions between different objects based on lightness and darkness becomes much more difficult.

Drinking too much alcohol can also cause dry eyes and lid myokymia, a condition where the lid may twitch for days.  In addition, it can trigger short-term double vision, inflammation that causes ocular rosacea, migraines, which can be accompanied by sensitivity to light and other related vision problems, and it can cause the blood vessels in your eyes to grow, making your eyes appear red and bloodshot all the time.

Drinking a lot of alcohol over a long period of time can increase your risk for premature cataract formation as early as your forties.  In addition, long term effects can result in permanently blurred vision or even double vision. These impairments are caused by the weakening of the muscles in the eye. Having impaired eyesight in this way can also decrease your reaction time.

One of the most vision threatening effects of long term alcohol consumption is Optic neuropathy or optic atrophy.  Also referred to as tobacco-alcohol amblyopia, people who drink or smoke in excess can develop this condition.  It results in a painless loss of vision, decreased peripheral vision and reduced color vision. It is believed that the condition develops because of toxic effects of alcohol and tobacco.

Lastly, because alcohol increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, the ocular manifestations of cardiovascular disease are all a possibility; optic neuropathy, retinal vascular occlusions and hypertensive retinopathy both of which can result in bleeding in the retina.

If you have any questions about your eye and vision health, please contact our offices in Stillwater at 405-372-1715 or in Pawnee at 918-762-2573. We also invite you to visit our website at www.cockrelleyecare.com and like us on Facebook at Cockrell Eye Care Center!

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