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Does Alcohol Affect Your Vision?

by Louise Wood
Alcohol and your vision

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Or should it be, “A red wine a day keeps cataracts away?’

Yes, really. Research has established a link between low-to-moderate alcohol consumption and reduced risk of cataract formation. Since alcohol is far more often linked to negative health effects, you might want to celebrate this one!

What are cataracts?

Cataract is the leading cause of blindness worldwide according to the Global Burden of Disease, Injuries and Risk Factors Study (GBD). In 2020 there were 15.2 million people blind from cataracts.

Cataract in human eye
Image source

The lens inside your eye is supposed to be a clear window. It lets light into the back of your eye to focus on your retina. Cataract is a clouding of this clear lens. Usually cataracts develop slowly and don’t initially affect your vision. Over time, a developing cataract makes it difficult to read and drive safely.

Research suggests oxidative stress in the lens may be an initiating factor in cataract formation. Current research is being conducted to investigate the use of antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress and arrest cataract development.

Aging is the most common cause of cataract development. With our aging population and longer life expectancy, cataract prevalence is on the rise. Identifying modifiable risk factors for cataract formation should help reduce the incidence.

Guidelines for alcohol consumption

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, drinking in moderation is limiting intake to two drinks or less a day for men and one for women.

The liver can metabolise about one standard serving of alcohol per hour. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol is in one standard drink. In the US, this can be found in:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor (or one “shot”)

Wine’s a good thing?

The study I cited earlier is the largest of its kind, tracking 490,000 people in the United Kingdom that agreed to disclose information about their health and lifestyle—including the amount and type of alcohol they consume.

After taking into account other factors that can cause cataracts, the research team concluded that people who consume 6.5 standard glasses of wine in a week were less likely to require cataract surgery. It’s unclear what the protective mechanism in alcoholic drinks might be to reduce cataract formation.

All types of alcohol at low-to-moderate intake indicated an association with reduced cataract formation. However, the strongest correlation was with wine drinkers. They had the lowest risk of cataract formation compared to those who abstained or who drank other types of alcohol.

Grape skin is full of antioxidants and higher concentrations are found in red grapes compared to white. Red wine could be one of the healthiest alcoholic beverages due to this high concentration of antioxidants.

Moderation, my friend

Please don’t take my research findings as an invitation to drink heavily. You should still adhere to the age-old adage “moderation is key.”

Alcohol consumption is associated with chronic cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancers. Excessive, frequent alcohol intake will cause fat to increase inside liver cells leading to liver cirrhosis.

Alcohol can also harm your vision

Drinking alcohol excessively can have harmful effects on your eyes. The following conditions have been linked to excessive alcohol consumption:

Decreased visual performance

Heavy drinking affects brain function, which can blur your vision or cause double vision when the eye muscles are not coordinated. This is usually a temporary issue that wears off when you sober up. When you’re under the influence of alcohol, your eye movements and tracking are also reduced.

Red eyes

Alcohol causes the blood vessels in the conjunctiva, the white part of your eye, to dilate, making it bloodshot.

Dry eye

Alcohol is a diuretic which means it causes frequent urination and therefore contributes to dehydration. Dry eye occurs when you are dehydrated.

Slower pupil reactions

Your pupil reactions with light exposure are often impaired when drinking alcohol.

Decreased peripheral vision

Your peripheral vision may reduce, known as tunnel vision.

Optic neuropathy

People who drink or smoke in excess can develop optic neuropathy. Also called tobacco-alcohol amblyopia, this condition is a permanent, painless loss of vision, causing with blurring or dimness when reading. There can also be a decrease in peripheral vision and reduced color vision.


Alcohol consumption has been associated with glaucoma severity, according to Nature.com.


Alcohol consumption may have a positive impact on your wellbeing or cause serious health issues. Like most good things in life, alcohol should be consumed in moderation.

But it is refreshing to learn that a couple of glasses of red wine each week may actually be protective against cataract development.

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