Long term impacts of smoke exposure in the womb

Study reveals pre-teens whose mothers smoked during pregnancy have thinner retinal nerve fibre layers


A Danish study has revealed that 11 and 12-year-olds whose mothers smoked during pregnancy have a 5% deficit in retinal nerve fibre layer (RNFL) thickness compared to the children of non-smoking mothers.

The research, published in JAMA Ophthalmology, measured the peripapillary RNFL thickness of 1323 children at the ages of 11 and 12 using optical coherence tomography.

The study found that in the 227 children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy, the peripapillary RNFL was 5.7μm thinner than the children of mothers who had not smoked.

Study author, Hakan Ashina, of Righospitalet in Copenhagen, told OT that the research supported previous findings that intrauterine and perinatal factors can have long-lasting effects on the retina and optic nerve.

“This is important because a considerable proportion of women continue to smoke throughout pregnancy,” Mr Ashina emphasised.

He added that a 5% deficit in retinal nerve fibre layer thickness was unlikely to affect the visual function of young adolescents.

“However, these children might be predisposed to ocular problems later in life,” he highlighted.

Explaining his motivation behind conducting the research, Mr Ashina explained that the damaging effects of prenatal exposure to tobacco smoking on retinal development had not been fully clarified and had a significant public health impact.

The researchers believed that a study on a population-based scale was warranted, he added.

Future studies will include longitudinal analysis of the retinal nerve fibre layer and ganglion cell layer.

“It would be interesting to see whether progressive thinning of these layers increases the risk of developing visual disorders,” Mr Ashina concluded.