You’ve probably heard the term ‘beer goggles’ before, which refers to seeing someone differently after having a few drinks, but do you actually see differently after drinking? Alcohol alters perception, but can drinking actually change your eyesight? Read on to learn how alcohol affects your eyes and when it’s a cause for concern.
How does alcohol affect your eyes?
Alcohol impacts the optic nerve by disrupting neurotransmitters such as GABA responsible for communicating messages from your brain to your eyes.
What are the risks of drinking to your eyesight?
The occasional cocktail by the pool, or glass of wine with dinner probably won’t affect your vision overall. Yet even moderate alcohol consumption can lead to eyesight issues such as:
- Dry eye– alcohol is dehydrating and can contribute to dry eye causing blurred vision, and irritation.
- Impaired Vision- Blurred vision (see below) and an impaired ability to see varying shades of colour or adjust to lighting. This happens as it decreases the reaction time for the pupils to dilate.
- Bloodshot eyes- alcohol dilates ocular blood vessels, which makes them look larger and gives the eyes a reddish color.
- Migraines- Alcohol can make the eyes extremely sensitive to light and cause migraine headaches.
What causes blurry vision when drinking?
When you consume alcohol, it affects the optic nerve and slows the neurotransmitters in your brain. This means the information passed between the eye and the brain is impaired. The optic nerve is responsible for carrying images from the eyes to the brain and drinking prevents the eyes from functioning properly. This can result in blurred or double vision.
Will my eyesight improve if I quit drinking?
It might. Though moderate drinking doesn’t necessarily impact eyesight, it can cause other health issues that do, such as high blood sugar. High blood sugar such as what diabetics experience can result in vision loss and damage. Diabetics often experience eyes issues such as diabetic retinopathy, blindness, and more. Drinking also makes us less inhibited and crave snacks that may impact blood sugar, so quitting may lower blood sugar and eliminate any vision problems caused by high blood sugar. If you are an alcoholic or a heavy drinker it can cause more serious problems to your eyesight and health that may improve by quitting.
Heavy drinking and alcoholism can negatively impact your eye health by causing:
- Muscle weakness- Alcohol weakens the muscles of the eyes and can permanently damage the optic nerve which transmits visual images to the brain. Drinking affects eye movements and prolonged alcohol use can cause involuntary rapid eye movement.
- Neurological disruptions- Alcohol slows down the communication between the eyes and the brain. This can cause double vision, decrease the reaction time of pupils and impair the ability to see colours properly.
Can alcohol affect my eyes long-term?
Long term consequences of heavy drinking include:
- Damage to Eye movement- Impairment of eye movements and involuntary eye movements back and forth can be permanent.
- Vision loss and blindness- This can occur from alcohol abuse and is known as toxic amblyopia.
- Increased risk of age-related macular degeneration (leading to legal blindness in people over 60) according to the American Optometric Association.
- Higher risk for cataracts according to Harvard medical school.
Did you know?
- Alcohol induced blindness was once common in the era of prohibition with homemade brews such as moonshine, an alcoholic brew that was often tainted by methanol. Methanol poisoning can lead to blindness and organ failure in as little as twelve hours.
- Blue eyed drinkers and people with lighter eye colours are at higher risk for alcohol dependency according to the American Journal of Medical Genetics: Neuropsychiatric Genetics (Part B). This may mean there is a genetic component to alcoholism. To find out how your eye colour may determine other health issues visit this post.
Moderation is key
As with most things in life, moderation is key. Having the occasional drink isn’t a big deal when it comes to your overall health and vision. Practicing moderation can help you avoid all these side effects of alcohol and protect your eyes.
If you find yourself overindulging in alcohol and it is negatively impacting your life, consider reaching out for help. There are confidential helplines you can call if you think you may have a problem.