How Does Alcohol Affect Your Eyesight?

By May Wilkerson 09/18/15

New research suggests that excessive drinking can lead to permanent loss of eyesight.

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We’ve all heard of “beer goggles,” or experienced blurry vision or distorted perception during a night of drinking. But excessive alcohol intake can harm all parts of your body, including your eyes. In some cases it can even lead to permanent loss of eyesight.

Before you panic, short-term booze intake is unlikely to affect your vision. But drinking regularly over a long time period, or short-term binge drinking, can directly damage the optic nerves. These nerves carry vision from the eyes to the brain, translating “looking” into “seeing.” The term “toxic amblyopia” is used to describe what happens when these nerves are permanently harmed by ongoing, heavy alcohol exposure.

Drinking in moderation will not have any lasting negative effects on your eyesight, though it may affect your vision temporarily. Most people who drink to excess will experience some momentary dizziness or blurred vision. But these symptoms usually clear up immediately when you sober up.

But routinely consuming large quantities of booze can put you at a higher risk of developing eye conditions that can permanently damage your vision. For this reason, heavy drinkers are more likely than moderate or non-drinkers to experience some degree of declining eyesight.

Alcohol also slows down the pace of communication between your brain’s neurotransmitters, which relay information from the brain to the body. Over time, this can weaken eye muscle coordination, causing distorted or double vision.

Excessive drinking can affect your eyes in other ways, as well; it can impair your ability to see contrasting colors or different shades of colors by slowing down the reaction time of your pupils.

It can heighten your sensitivity to light due to migraines and cause swelling in the blood vessels of your eyes, making them appear red or bloodshot.

Every body is different, so reactions to alcohol vary from person to person. But to protect your various organs, including your eyes, doctors recommend drinking in moderation, avoiding alcohol on an empty stomach, and drinking plenty of water in between drinks.

Men are generally advised to cap their booze at two drinks a day, and women at one drink a day. Sticking to these guidelines should help you see as clearly as possible.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.