Glaucoma and Driving Safety

Are you noticing that your vision is changing? Alterations in your vision may mean that you need to have your prescription adjusted, but it could also be an indication of a more significant problem. If you are experiencing problems with glare, decreased contrast sensitivity or difficulty seeing at night, you may want to call your ophthalmologist for an appointment. These are common symptoms of several eye diseases, including glaucoma which is one of the leading causes of vision loss in the United States.

What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is not just a single disease. It actually refers to an entire family of eye diseases that affects the optic nerve. Increased pressure inside the eye can stress the optic nerve which is responsible for transmitting images to the brain. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, glaucoma can cause blindness.

Visual Requirements to drive
One of the early symptoms of glaucoma is peripheral vision loss, or limited visual field. The Department of Motor Vehicles requires a horizontal field of vision, with both eyes open, of at least 120 degrees. Peripheral vision and visual acuity may be tested at the time you acquire your driver’s license and again before each license renewal. Therefore, a trip to the local DMV could be your first indication that you have a limited visual field.

Does visual field really matter?
Several studies show that people with peripheral vision loss may be slower to anticipate and respond to curves and changes in road conditions. Limited visual field also makes it more challenging for drivers to stay within their lane and match others’ speed when changing lanes. Interestingly, losing peripheral vision on the left side of the visual field is associated with more driving problems than losing peripheral vision on the right side (Source: Glaucoma.org).

Just because you are bothered by glare or you prefer driving during the day does not mean you are developing glaucoma. Ask your ophthalmologist about amber tinted lenses or anti-reflective coatings to make driving more comfortable. The best gift you can give to yourself and all other drivers on the road is to schedule comprehensive eye exams on a regular basis to keep your vision clear and your eyes healthy. The interval between comprehensive eye exams will vary from individual to individual, so ask your ophthalmologist at the end of each appointment when you should return for your next appointment. Book your next exam before you leave the office, and you’ll be safe on the roads until your next visit!

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