If you experience persistent eye problems due to alcohol consumption or have experienced significant vision changes, visit an eye care practitioner immediately. The earlier eye issues are diagnosed and alcohol use is stopped, the better the long-term prognosis.
How does alcohol impact your eyes?
Here are a few ways alcohol affects vision when you are intoxicated:[1-4]
Alcohol intake may cause temporary blurred vision by impacting the central nervous system, including brain function, which plays an essential role in vision coordination and eye movement coordination.
Reduced Visual Acuity
Alcohol may temporarily reduce visual acuity, making it harder to focus and see clearly. This effect often correlates with alcohol intoxication.
Eye Fatigue & Strain
Drinking too much alcohol can contribute to eye fatigue and strain, as you work to see clearly despite the negative impact on eyesight caused by drinking.
Alcohol dehydrates both your body and eyes, creating discomfort and fatigue. For this reason, dry eyes are particularly problematic with chronic alcohol abuse.
Alcohol can cause bloodshot eyes due to its vasodilating effects. Alcohol widens the blood vessels, including those in the eyes, causing redness and the appearance of bloodshot eyes.
Color Vision Changes
Alcohol use can alter color vision perception temporarily. If you are intoxicated, it can affect how you perceive colors.
Increased Sensitivity to Light
Some people may experience increased sensitivity to light after consuming alcohol. Bright lights may become uncomfortable or painful to the eyes.
How Dangerous Is Alcohol Consumption for Your Eyes?
Alcohol use and abuse can have negative effects on the eyes in both the short and long term.
Heavy drinking can cause various eye problems for someone under the influence. Here are some short-term dangers associated with heavy alcohol consumption:[1-2,5]
Involuntary Eye Movements
Heavy alcohol consumption can trigger rapid, involuntary eye movements. These can significantly affect visual stability and clarity. Alcohol abuse can also impair the coordination of eye muscles, leading to double vision or diplopia.
Reduced Depth Perception
Alcohol can negatively affect depth perception. This can make it challenging to accurately perceive distances between objects.
Delayed Pupillary Response
Alcohol can slow down the pupillary response, affecting how the pupils react to changes in light. Without this, the eye is more susceptible to damage from light.
Decreased Night Vision
Alcohol intoxication can make it more challenging to see in dim conditions. This leads to an increased risk of accidents and related injuries.
Alcohol abuse can irritate the conjunctiva, the thin clear tissue covering the white part of the eye (sclera), causing redness and irritation. Studies show that the conjunctival flora is different in people with alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Prolonged heavy drinking can cause nutritional deficiencies that may affect the eyes, such as a deficiency in essential vitamins and minerals. It can also lead to corneal damage, reduced visual abilities, and cataracts. Over time and with years of heavy drinking, there is a significant toll taken on the eye muscle and its ability to function.
Long-term effects of drinking on the eyes and eyesight include the following:[1-9]
Alcoholic Optic Neuropathy
Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to optic neuropathy. With this condition, the optic nerve is damaged, resulting in progressive vision loss. Optic neuropathy is often irreversible, especially if alcohol abuse continues.
Long-term heavy drinking is associated with an increased risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss in older adults. AMD affects the macula, the central part of the retina that is responsible for sharp vision.
Heavy alcohol use may increase the risk of developing cataracts, a clouding of the lens of the eye, leading to blurred vision and eventually blindness if left untreated. Cataracts can be treated with cataract surgery, which replaces the natural, clouded lens with an artificial lens.
Dry Eye Syndrome
Chronic alcohol consumption can contribute to dry eye syndrome, causing discomfort, irritation, and a gritty sensation in the eyes due to decreased tear production.
Conjunctival & Corneal Disorders
Alcohol abuse can lead to conjunctival and corneal disorders, causing inflammation, redness, and irritation of the conjunctiva and cornea.
Alcohol abuse can impair eye muscle coordination, potentially leading to strabismus, commonly known as crossed eyes. The eye muscles no longer work together effectively, and this can cause the eyes to appear crossed.
Retinal Vascular Disease
Alcohol abuse can contribute to retinal vascular disease. This affects blood vessels in the retina, potentially causing vision problems that can even progress to blindness if untreated.
Chronic alcohol abuse may increase the risk of developing glaucoma. The increased pressure in the eye that is associated with glaucoma can damage the optic nerve, leading to vision loss.
Higher Risk of Eye Infections
Chronic alcohol abuse takes a toll on overall health, weakening the immune system’s function. As a result, the body is more susceptible to infections, including eye infections. The potential for damage from these infections is also higher.
Treatment Options for Alcoholic Eyes
The term alcoholic eyes refers to the various eye conditions and vision problems that can result from excessive and chronic alcohol consumption. While symptoms of all these conditions can be managed and treated, it’s essential that alcohol abuse stops. Otherwise, the conditions will likely persist and recur.
Here are potential treatment options for eye-related problems associated with alcohol abuse:[1-2]
Stopping Alcohol Use
The first and most crucial step to treating alcoholic eyes is to stop alcohol consumption. If the person has AUD, they shouldn’t suddenly stop drinking on their own. They need comprehensive addiction treatment, often involving the use of medications, to safely stop. Without medical assistance, alcohol withdrawal can trigger potentially life-threatening symptoms.
After withdrawal, alcohol addiction treatment should involve therapy to address root issues that led to alcohol abuse.
Accurate Diagnosis of Eye Issues
If you’re experiencing eye problems, whether they are related to alcohol abuse or not, consult an ophthalmologist. They can diagnose specific eye conditions and recommend appropriate treatment.
In cases where alcohol abuse has led to neurological problems affecting the eyes, consult a neurologist. You can start with an eye doctor, like an optometrist or ophthalmologist, and they may then refer you to other specialists for further diagnosis and treatment.
Treatments for alcoholic eyes will depend on the condition in question. For example, dry eye may be treated with artificial tears, prescription eye drops, or ointments. Cataracts may warrant monitoring until cataract surgery is needed. Glaucoma can be managed with medications, laser therapy, or surgery.
AMD may warrant injections (anti-VEGF), photodynamic therapy, or laser treatment to slow its progression and limit vision loss. Retinal disorders may be treated with injections, laser therapy, or surgery.
Alcoholic Eyes FAQ
Here are some of the top questions regarding alcoholic eyes:
Alcohol abuse can cause various types of damage to the eye, even permanently damaging the optic nerve or contributing to conditions like macular degeneration, cataracts, or glaucoma. In the short term, alcohol abuse can cause eye discomfort, blurry vision, bloodshot eyes, and sensitivity to light.
While alcoholic eyes is not a medical term, it is often used colloquially to reference eye issues related to alcohol abuse. When people use the term, they are often referencing eyes that are bloodshot, watery, puffy or swollen, droopy, or irritated.
Yes, alcohol consumption can lead to red or bloodshot eyes. Alcohol acts as a vasodilator, which relaxes and expands blood vessels throughout your body, including in the eyes. This can give the conjunctiva (the white part of the eye) a red or pink appearance.
In addition, dryness and irritation from alcohol consumption can cause eye discomfort. This can lead someone to rub their eyes, creating more redness.
Redness in the eyes due to alcohol typically dissipates once your body metabolizes the alcohol. However, chronic heavy alcohol use may lead to prolonged eye redness.
Alcohol has the ability to significantly affect eye pressure in the following ways:[1-2,9-11]
Vasodilation: Alcohol acts as a vasodilator, meaning it relaxes and expands blood vessels to increase the rate of blood flow, which can potentially alter eye pressure.
Intraocular pressure: Alcohol may temporarily raise intraocular pressure (IOP). An elevated IOP can be particularly concerning for individuals with glaucoma, an eye disease characterized by increased eye pressure that damages optic nerves and leads to vision loss.
Dehydration: Alcohol can act as a diuretic, leading to more frequent urination and possible dehydration, potentially disrupting fluid balance in the eyes and eye pressure levels.
Help for Alcohol Abuse
While eye issues related to alcohol abuse should be treated by an eye care specialist, the root cause of alcohol use disorder must be addressed. Without proper treatment for alcohol abuse, treatment for eye issues will be negated.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol abuse, reach out for help today. With comprehensive addiction treatment, including medical detox and personalized therapy, you can safely stop misusing alcohol and begin to build a better future in recovery.
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- Alcohol, intraocular pressure and open-angle glaucoma: A systematic review and meta-analysis Stuart KV, Madjedi K, Luben RN, et al., Ophthalmology. Published January 2022.
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