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While it has been argued that small amounts of alcohol may possibly provide some health-related benefits according to some sources, there is no doubt that alcohol consumption can affect your body in many ways. Regardless of whether you set yourself the limit of a single glass on the rare occasion, or if you suffer from alcohol use disorder, it’s important to remember that alcohol takes it’s toll on the body, in both the short and long term. Furthermore, this extends to your vision and eye health…

Short-term Effects

Slower pupil reactions
Alcohol consumption slows the pace of the communication between the brain’s neurotransmitters, which causes the iris to constrict and dilate at a much slower speed. Also because the information cannot pass between the brain and the body as fluidly as when sober, this can also lead to poor coordination in the eye muscles, which causes distorted or double vision.

Decreased Contrast Sensitivity
The ability to make distinctions between different objects based on darkness and lightness and adjust vision based on lighting conditions is impaired by alcohol consumption.

Eyelid Twitching
After excessive alcohol intake, many people experience eyelid twitching (myokymia).

Decreased Peripheral Vision
Not only can your general vision be affected by excessive alcohol consumption, but alcohol can also lower your peripheral vision sensitivity, creating the sensation of tunnel vision.

Increased Eye Dryness
Since alcohol is a diuretic and a dehydrating substance, excessive alcohol consumption can often cause dry, bloodshot and sore eyes. Furthermore, studies have shown that even a small amount of alcohol can worsen the symptoms of dry eye, due to the fact that alcohol blocks the release of the hormones needed for water reabsorption.

Long-term Effects

Increased Cataract Formation
Numerous studies have shown increased cataract formation in those with higher alcohol consumption levels compared to those who have had a small amount or no alcohol consumption.

Optic Neuropathy
Studies have shown that people affected by long-term alcoholism have increased risks for developing various forms of neuropathy or nerve damage, including optic neuropathy. This condition can cause loss of vision and can cause a decrease in peripheral vision and colour vision. The link is thought to be due to nutritional deficits such as lack of vitamin B12 and folate in those who drink heavily rather than a direct effect of the alcohol.

Vitamin Deficiency
Heavy drinking can affect the liver’s absorption intake of vitamins that are required to maintain healthy eyesight. More specifically, long-term alcohol abuse can cause a vitamin B-1 (Thiamine) deficiency resulting in a weakness or paralysis of the eye muscles. Also, a vitamin A deficiency due to excessive alcohol consumption can cause a thinning of the cornea, corneal perforation, night blindness, dryness and due to retinal damage, even blindness in some extreme cases.

Prenatal Alcohol Exposure
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can put the unborn baby’s health at risk of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and increases the risk of permanently affecting the eyesight of the baby. Furthermore, there are many eye problems that are associated with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome including underdevelopment of the optic nerve, the tendency for the eyelids to droop and difficulty with eye coordination. For these reasons, all alcohol consumption is strongly discouraged during pregnancy.

Moderation is Key

Although the occasional drink can help you to relax and wind down in social settings, alcohol consumption can affect your vision temporarily. These effects including blurred vision, eyelid twitching, increased dryness and decreased contrast sensitivity and peripheral vision are often short-lived and your eyes will usually return to normal once alcohol levels in the blood have reduced.

Practising moderation can help you avoid all these side effects of alcohol and protect your eyes against the short-term effects. By limiting yourself to one alcoholic beverage per hour, never drinking on an empty stomach and drinking lots of water during the evening (ie- alternate every glass of alcohol with a glass of water) will help to reduce the risk of these short-term effects of alcohol on your eyes and also help prevent those pounding headaches of regret in the morning the next day.

Problem Drinking?

For many New Zealanders, a drink after work with colleagues, friend or family is an important part of socialising and relaxing. However, with our prevalent drinking culture and binge drinking problems among the youth in New Zealand, alcohol use disorder affects many people, which often has devastating effects on these individuals and their families. These issues can cause serious personal, social and health problems, including eye health issues for many people which is why it is important to seek help if you are finding it hard to drink in moderation and keep your alcohol consumption under control.

If you or someone you know needs support and treatment to reduce their alcohol consumption, for confidential advice and support, call the Alcohol Drug Helpline or 0800 787 797 or visit their website:

Eye Health Tips Eye Health Tips Tuesday, 24 Jul 2018

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