Fresher’s Week 2021: What impact does alcohol have on your eyes?
16 September 2021
How to reduce the booze (for your eye’s sake!)
Fresher’s Week 2021 is almost here! With many universities starting the new academic year either this week or next week, hundreds of thousands of students will soon be setting off for a new chapter in their lives – ready to start their degree, make life-long friends, and party a little too hard (!). Speaking of partying, we all know that excessive alcohol consumption can be detrimental to both our physical and mental health. However, did you know that alcohol misuse can also harm your eyes too? Read on to discover how alcohol can affect your eyes, and why you should cut down on your alcohol intake for the sake of your eye health.
What are the short-term effects of alcohol on our eyes?
If you’re not very familiar with the concept of Fresher’s Week, it is essentially the first week of university when many new and returning students party all week-long, drastically increasing their alcohol consumption during the week. Other than the usual consequences this brings (like terrible hangovers and missed 9AMs), increased alcohol consumption can also lead to many short-term side effects on your eye health.
Some of the short-term effects of alcohol on the eyes include double or blurry vision, brought on by heavy drinking. While these effects may not be as serious as the long-term effects, they can still be dangerous in certain situations such as driving, where you rely on your clear vision. As alcohol is a depressant, heavy drinking can lead to weakened eye muscle coordination, which can slow down your reaction time and impair your coordination. If the excessive drinking continues, permanent damage can be done to your brain cells and neurotransmitters – distorting your vision and weakening your eye muscles even further.
Another short-term side effect that comes alongside decreased reaction times is the iris taking longer to contract, which is what shrinks the pupil in the eye. As the pupil is what allows light to enter the eye, if the iris cannot contract quickly enough, too much light enters the eye which dazzles the driver. This is another reason why drunk driving is so dangerous – studies have shown that even driving at the legal driving limit can still reduce the eye’s ability to adjust to brightness by 30%. Excessive alcohol consumption can also make it harder for you to differentiate between shades and colours, due to a decrease in contrast sensitivity. To stay safe this Fresher’s Week, keep an eye on how much you drink if you plan on driving, and make sure you have a designated driver if you go over the limit.
In addition, myokymia is another short-term effect of alcohol on the eyes – better known as eyelid twitching. This condition can be triggered by a variety of things, such as stress, lack of sleep, allergies and caffeine. It can also be temporarily brought on by drinking alcohol. This condition is usually not serious and its symptoms tend to wear off once you stop drinking, but please see your optician if it does persist, as it can be a symptom of a more serious eye condition.
What are the long-term effects?
Fresher’s Week may only be one week long – however, it is well known that student culture in the UK heavily revolves around regular binge drinking. The drinking culture that students take part in can have devastating results, as alcohol-related deaths are still happening every year. Many students up and down the nation take part throughout their time at university, which unfortunately can cause long-term effects on their health, including their eye health.
While frequent drinking seems to be the pinnacle of British student culture, it’s also a frequent activity for all Brits, as we are known for being a nation that loves to drink! Most people are aware of the negative long-term impacts that alcohol can have on health in regards to the risks of liver cancer, obesity, and addiction. Drunk driving is also widely known about (and illegal) due to how dangerous it can be. What isn’t discussed as much, however, is the negative long-term impact that alcohol can have on our eyes.
After continuous heavy drinking over several years, your peripheral vision can eventually decrease, causing you to have tunnel vision, as continued exposure to alcohol can affect the edge of your visual field. Tunnel vision can make your day-to-day tasks a lot more difficult to carry out and increases the risk of danger, particularly if you wish to drive. Alcohol can also be a cause of dry eye disease and worsen any pre-existing dry eye symptoms. Dry eye disease occurs when the eyes cannot produce enough tears or when the tears aren’t of the right hydration balance. Considering that alcohol is known to dehydrate your body, it makes sense that prolonged misuse of alcohol can lead to dry, irritated eyes. Chronic dry eye tends to go hand in hand with eye redness, which is another side effect of long-term excessive drinking. This can cause the blood vessels to become more noticeable in your eyes as they expand, and it could also lead to a change in blood pressure and eye pressure.
The risks don’t stop there… long-term alcohol abuse can also lead to an increased risk of developing cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and optic neuropathy. While cataracts normally develop when you hit your 50’s, they can develop a lot earlier due to the nutritional deficiencies that come with alcohol consumption. These deficiencies can prevent your internal organs (particularly your liver) from absorbing the vitamins you need. Likewise, long-term alcohol abuse can lead to the early development of AMD, symptoms of which include seeing faded colours, blurry vision and deteriorating central vision. Optic neuropathy is a similar condition – while it is painless, you begin to lose your peripheral vision and the ability to differentiate between colours. These conditions that can develop later in life, however, could all be prevented by drinking responsibly while you’re young.
Staying safe this Fresher’s Week
Despite all the hype that surrounds alcohol and drinking during Fresher’s Week (and university in general), make sure you stay safe and responsible this year by controlling your alcohol consumption. This will prevent any significant short and long-term damage to your health, including your eyes. When you’re off to university this September, try to stick to the recommended weekly unit allowance – and of course, have lots of fun!
If you are seeking help and resources with regards to high alcohol consumption, you can find more information here.
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