What does alcohol do to your eyes?

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Alcohol consumption may cause distorted vision in a few hours of drinking; however, it'll lead to serious eye complications in the long run.

This is because alcohol's compounds impede and impair eye muscle coordination by delaying neurotransmitters in the brain. 

Here are ways how alcohol affects your eyesight.

Delayed pupil reactions

Alcohol slows down responses when your iris dilates or constricts. As a result, this delayed reaction in your eyesight, rendering it hard to see objects in brightness or darkness.

Decreased peripheral vision

Alcohol consumption allows lesser focus in your environment. This is especially dangerous for people prone to accidents and couldn't pass the point of fixation due to alcohol.

Alter contrasts of hues

Alcohol impairs the ability to see colour shades or distinguish them from one another. For instance, the colour orange might be mistaken for brown or red or violet for blue.

Weakens the eye muscle

The optic nerve, which delivers visual pictures to the brain, can be damaged if the eye muscles are weakened by alcohol.

Bloodshot eyes

Alcohol consumption constricts ocular blood vessels, giving the eyes a reddish hue and making them appear bigger.

Double vision

Compounds found in alcohol causes eye and nerve problems that prevent coordination in the muscles. This causes double vision where one imagery appears or overlaps with another.

Triggers migraines and vertigo

Alcohol causes headaches to migraines, and vertigo while manifesting some visual aura like blind patches, greying colours, and floating patterns.

Dryness of the eyes

Alcohol often leads to dehydration of the body, and your eyes are no exception. In addition, dry eyes are constantly itchy, sore, and red, which causes discomfort in many alcohol drinkers.

Eye twitching

Eyes twitch due to poor optic nerve functions. This can be caused by alcohol which weakens nerve muscles and promotes poor eye coordination.

The long-term impacts of alcohol consumption can negatively impact your eyesight. For instance, toxic amblyopia is a condition caused by a toxic response in the optic nerve that causes irreversible blindness.

Cataracts may also be linked to excessive alcohol intake. Alcohol affects numerous regions of the central nervous system, including visual processes.

For example, too much alcohol intake can modify eye movements in adolescents.

The long-term effects of alcohol include:

  • Decreased vision. Decreased vision may be caused by alcohol-induced cornea thinning, retinal damage, and night blindness. In all, this is due to vitamin deficiency in the body caused by excessive drinking.
  • Speedy age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Alcohol consumption is a factor that speeds up AMD. It’s common in people over age 60, but it develops faster in alcoholics.
  • Optic neuropathy. Also known as amblyopia, optic neuropathy is the loss of vision due to the toxicity of alcohol.

Vitamin deficit caused by long-term alcohol usage will eventually impair your vision.

This is because the liver can't absorb and process excessive alcohol, thus impairing vitamin absorption in the liver, which is essential for maintaining healthy eyes.

While drinking in moderation doesn't hurt your eyesight, a person can experience headaches and blurred vision. Long-term drinking, however, can impair sight.

Eye risks and issues from excessive alcohol consumption

Alcohol abuse can harm your eyesight and, in rare circumstances, lead to eye risks and problems like cataracts, jaundice, or blindness.

Cataracts

Cataracts are the tainting of the lens of the eye. They grow progressively due to age or eye problems resulting in symptoms such as impaired vision.

However, poor diet and lifestyle, drugs, smoking, and alcohol can exacerbate the problem.

Symptoms of cataracts:

  • Cloudy vision
  • Poor night vision
  • Double vision
  • Glare
  • Changes in visual images and colour

The eye loses the ability to focus light properly with cataracts. As a result, you may experience hazy vision or other eyesight problems.

Alcohol Jaundice

The most frequent sign of alcohol-induced liver illness is jaundice. It's characterized by accumulating a chemical in the blood called bilirubin, which produces a yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Alcoholic jaundice is a symptom of alcoholic liver disease, and it's frequently discovered as a cirrhosis condition.

Symptoms of jaundice:

  • Abdominal pain in the liver area
  • Dark-coloured urine
  • Yellowing of the sclera
  • Itchy skin
  • Weight loss

Age is a factor that impacts bilirubin production that leads to jaundice. People with hepatitis who consume large amounts of alcohol are also in danger and risks speeding up the disease.

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Pregnant women who consumed alcohol will risk developing FAS in children that may cause visual impairment. Most children with FAS develop poor visual acuity and involuntary movement of the eyes.

Some eye problems in children with FAS are:

  • Poor optic nerve development
  • Hazy and blurred vision
  • Strabismus
  • Nystagmus
  • Cataracts

Eyelid changes are prevalent with FAS. However, they don't always impede vision development. Telecanthus and drooping eyelids are present in children with FAS.

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

AMD is common in people over age 60, but alcohol consumption may speed AMD symptoms and eye degeneration. AMD damages the retina and gradually contributes to blindness over time.

Excessive alcohol intake has been linked to early dry AMD. That's because consuming too much alcohol is linked to poor nourishment.

In addition, a diet lacking in fruits, green leafy vegetables, fish, lean protein, and nuts has been linked to a higher risk of late AMD.

Symptoms of AMD include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Distorted vision
  • Sensitivity to light or glare
  • Poor night vision
  • Gradual loss of vision

Legal blindness in alcohol-induced AMD takes around ten years to develop, depending on the severity of the alcoholism.

Optic Neuropathy

Alcoholism doesn't cause optic neuropathy directly, but due to the effects of alcoholism like poor nutrition and other factors, it can lead to optic neuropathy.

In addition, vitamin B12 deficiency due to alcohol is also linked to optic neuropathy.

Also, alcohol drinks containing methanol or ethylene glycol can contribute to toxic optic neuropathy over time.

Symptoms of optic neuropathy include:

  • Poor visualizing contrasts and colours
  • Photophobia
  • Poor visual imagery
  • Hazy vision
  • Gradual vision loss

Papillomacular bundle damage and central scotoma are also symptoms of alcohol optic neuropathy. Alcohol blood level and B12 deficiency tests are often required for alcoholics.

Involuntary Eye Movement or Positional Alcohol Nystagmus (PAN)

Also known as nystagmus, it's the involuntary eye movement that happened when the head is positioned sideways.

It occurs due to the gravity of the semicircular canals’ membrane space in the ear which is different from its original specific gravity of fluids.

The involuntary jerkiness of the eyes or one eye:

  • Blurry or shaky vision
  • Poor low light visions
  • Sensitivity to light and glare
  • Headaches

The specific gravity of alcohol is lower than that of water. Meanwhile, the specific gravity of the canal membrane is lower than that of the surrounding fluid when alcohol enters through capillaries.

How to minimize my risk of vision problems?

Quitting alcohol and getting treatments are the best ways to minimize the risk of vision problems. In addition, diagnosing your alcoholism and comorbidities helps prevent eye degeneration.

Besides quitting alcohol, you can take preventive measures against alcohol-induced eye problems and co-occurring medical conditions such as eating leafy greens, fruits, optic supplements, and more.

Here are more tips to help you preserve your eyes and prevent blindness from the onset of alcohol.

Treat your alcoholism

Quitting alcohol and getting yourself treated is a sure way to minimize alcohol-induced vision problems. Medical professionals can even diagnose other comorbidities caused or at risk from alcohol consumption.

Eat fruits and leafy greens

Leafy greens are rich in B vitamins that boost eye health. Also, nitrated found in these food groups be metabolized to nitric oxide to regulate ocular pressure and enhance blood flow.

Exercise regularly

Exercise improves blood flow, oxygen levels, and nutrients in the system, which help regulate optic nerves and pressure in the eyes.

In addition, exercise keeps your alcohol blood sugar level in check, which can lead to blindness or diabetic eye disease.

Have a regular eye exam

An eye care professional helps diagnose eyesight problems early on.

If your eyesight is caused by excessive alcohol drinking, most inpatient programmes will have eye specialists to cater to your medical condition while considering your alcoholism detox needs.

Check for any underlying diseases

For example, vision problems may be an underlying symptom of another alcohol-induced condition like hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, or other kidney problems. Talk to a doctor if you're diagnosed with co-occurring conditions.

Shield your eyes from the sun

Photosensitivity is common for people who binge drink. To further curb eye pain from light and glare, it’s best to use eyeshades with UVA protection. This can decrease your chances of doing more damage to your eyes.

Drink water

Alcoholism will leave you dehydrated. Its manifestations are not only obvious to see on your skin but to your eyes as well.

Dry eyes are often itchy and sore. To combat dry eyes and excessive alcohol consumption, drink a glass of water now and then.

Take supplements

Alcohol depletes much of your nutrients. Thiamine and B vitamins are a few common deficiencies found in alcoholics.

Therefore, most medical professionals will prescribe supplements to fortify the vitamins you need for your body.

Rest your eyes

Alcoholics at work are likely on their computer screens all day – that and the added stress factor will trigger cravings for alcohol.

So it's always good to take a break away from technology and relax in 'green spaces' where your eyes can rest.

Manage blurry vision during alcohol withdrawal 

Some patients experience blurry visions from alcohol withdrawal and migraines while undergoing a detox treatment. It’s best to practice safe detox with medical practitioners who can help you with your eye problems. 

Short-term vision problems from drinking alcohol may go away on their own, but if you're a long-term binge drinker, your eye issues might exacerbate over time. 

If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol-induced eye problems, you may want to reach out to Abbeycare Scotland or Abbeycare Gloucester to start detoxing your life from excessive drinking.

Last Updated: July 6, 2021

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.