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October 07, 2021

Oktoberfest inspired get-togethers are just around the corner and I think we all know what that means—alcohol, and a lot of it. Whether you prefer beer or a nice glass of chianti, alcohol can have both a positive and a negative impact on your eye health. Good news for the beer fans—researchers at the University of Western Ontario discovered that the antioxidants found in beer, particularly ales and stouts, protected the eyes against mitochondrial damage. On the other hand, too much alcohol over time can lead to short term vision changes as well as permanent damage. As they say, everything in moderation!

Positive Effects Of Alcohol On The Eyes

Compounds found in red wine may help decrease your chance of developing age-relatedmacular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, and other conditions. Red wine is one of the best sources of resveratrol, a type of plant estrogen that has been shown to fight inflammation, inhibit oxidation of certain cells, and prevent cell death. Although resveratrol is found in grapes, nuts, and berries, wine’s fermentation process allows resveratrol to be absorbed by the body more easily. Red wine also contains twice the amount of flavonoids and other antioxidants.

One Reykjavik eye study examined the ocular effects ofmoderate wine consumption over the course of five years. The groups were divided into lifetime abstainers, former drinkers, consumers of less than one drink per month and consumers of more than two drinks a month. To sum up the results, the age-adjusted incidence of any type ofcataractwas 32.2% among non-drinkers and only 13% for moderate drinkers. It’s important to note that the decreased risk was found specifically in red wine drinkers, so break out the pinot noir!

Wine can also help prevent AMD. One study of over 3000 adults showed a direct association between moderate red wine consumption and a decreased risk for age-related macular degeneration. Other research into the components of red grapes showed a very high concentration of carotenoids, particularly lutein and zeaxanthin, which are both beneficial in combating AMD and other ocular conditions.

When it comes to the benefits of beer, the darker the better. According to Canadian researchers, beer is just as good as red wine in terms of antioxidants, and if we’re talking dark beer, it’s actually better. Stouts and dark beers decreased the chance of cataracts by more than 50%. It’s a thin line, however; more than three beers a day can actually increase your risk, so be careful. 

Negative Effects Of Alcohol On The Eyes

As I’ve already mentioned, alcohol can be beneficial to the eyes, but ONLY IN MODERATION. As we all know, one drink can lead to another, which leads to another, then get the idea. So, what happens to our eyes when we over imbibe? A lot, actually.

When it comes to short term effects on the eyes, there are plenty. At a blood alcohol level of around 0.15%-0.19%, many drinkers will experience double or blurred vision. Bloodshot eyes will also occur as alcohol dilates the blood vessels. Too much alcohol can also result in light sensitivity, decrease your pupil’s reaction time, and result in headaches. Thankfully, these are temporary side effects that will usually wear off as the person begins to sober up. 

A lifetime of drinking large amounts of alcohol, however, can lead to permanent damage. Alcoholism damages the brain in many different ways, and unfortunately, your eyesight will become a casualty over time. Damage to brain cells and neurotransmitters will cause the eye’s muscles to weaken and lead to permanent blurred or double vision. Heavy drinking can also lead to rapid eye movement, where the eyes involuntarily move back and forth, the iris may take longer to contract and dilate, peripheral vision will decrease significantly, and color vision can be permanently damaged. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE (and not in a fun “Billy Mays” way). Drinking in excess can also lead to optic neuropathy, a degenerative condition characterized by damage to the optic nerve. Heavy drinkers also frequently experience severe migraine headaches, accompanied by a debilitating visual aura (blind spots, flashing lights, graying of vision). A history of heavy alcohol consumption can also result in chronicdry eye. Research suggests that alcohol abuse can lead to alcoholic amblyopia, a bilateral loss of vision (although this is rare). According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), heavy amounts of alcohol over time may contribute to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and a higher incidence of cataracts. This can be confusing, as moderate amounts of alcohol can have the opposite effect. Again, this is why moderation is so important. 

With many holiday activities on the horizon, here are some tips! Always know your limits and have a glass of water between each glass of alcohol. Never drink on an empty stomach, try to limit yourself to one drink an hour, and never drink and drive. Bear in mind that alcohol affects every individual differently. If you are experiencing vision problems that are unusual to you and are not subsiding with time,book an appointmentwith us ASAP.