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Did you know that glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the United States?  In its simplest terms, glaucoma is a disease that damages your eye’s optic nerve.  Glaucoma is the source of several different vision problems, including (but not limited to) the loss of contrast sensitivity, problems with glare, and blurred vision.

The purpose of this article is to provide a very cursory understanding of how glaucoma can have an adverse effect on one’s safe driving abilities.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is caused by the build-up of extra fluid pressure in your eyes.  This causes damage to the optic nerve that can lead to gradual visual declines, up to a complete loss of sight.  Often, your peripheral (or side) vision is affected first.  Eventually, your central (or direct) vision will also begin to diminish.  It is estimated that over 3 million Americans are living with glaucoma.

Deborah Kogler, president of the nationally recognized Magnifiers & More, explains that “Without treatment, people with glaucoma will slowly lose their peripheral vision. The peripheral vision loss can cause a person to miss objects, cars, and people to the sides and out of the corner of their eyes.  The individual may complain feeling as if they are looking through a tunnel.”

How does glaucoma affect safe driving?

According to a 2015 study by the University of Alabama’s Department of Ophthalmology, (Birmingham), drivers over the age of 70 with glaucoma had a 1.65 times higher accident rate than those without glaucoma.  That’s pretty significant!  Glaucoma can affect your safe driving abilities in many ways, two critical areas are by constricting your peripheral vision and by limiting your ability to quickly adjust to the glare from any number of light sources.

Peripheral (or side) vision is necessary to detect information from the sides that is critical for safe driving. Your peripheral vision is needed to see road signs, hazards, and changes in the flow of traffic.

An impaired ability to recover from glare can result in the driver being blinded by a glare source and consequently missing curves or jogs in the road, striking pedestrians or objects in the roadway, and/or crashing into the back of slow-moving, disabled or stopped vehicles.  This glare most often originates from the headlights of oncoming vehicles or even from the sun.

What can I do?

The National Eye Institute reports that there is no cure for glaucoma, and vision lost from the disease cannot be restored.  Early detection and immediate treatment can delay progression of the disease.  Although nerve damage and visual loss from glaucoma cannot be corrected, the good news is that progression of the disease can oftentimes be controlled.

The loss of vision from glaucoma can prevent a driver from seeing other vehicles or hazards on the road and will limit their ability to drive safely.  The good news is that just because you’ve been diagnosed with glaucoma does not mean that you have to retire from driving; your risk for being involved in a future traffic accident depends largely on the extent the disease has affected your vision.

Diagnosis and early detection are the first steps in preserving your vision.  The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that adults age 65 and older have a complete eye exam (including tests for glaucoma!) at least every twelve months.  Doing so will help keep your eyes healthy, will help in the early detection of vision disorders and by association, will help extend your safe driving career.

So please…get your next eye examination scheduled today!

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