It may seem to many that driving with a serious eye condition such a glaucoma can be an almost impossible task. People afflicted with glaucoma can barely thread a needle or read a book, let alone operate heavy machinery. However, a recent study published in Optometry and Vision Science has shown that with frequent scanning of the road, people with glaucoma may be able to successfully pass a road test.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye disease where fluid pressure inside the eyes builds up causing loss of vision, and if left untreated, can sometimes cause blindness. The eyes have a natural flow of fluid at all times to keep them nourished. It is an essential part of the eye. However, in eyes with glaucoma, the fluid is not being drained naturally.
If left undrained and untreated, this buildup of fluid can lead not only to a loss of vision but also permanent damage to the optic nerve and several other parts of the eyes. Glaucoma generally affects both eyes, although sometimes one eye may display more symptoms than the other.
Types of Glaucoma
There are two primary types of glaucoma (although some less common types exist too): open angle and closed angle glaucoma. The angle refers to the area between the iris and cornea where the fluid flows through.
Closed angle glaucoma often comes on quite suddenly. Those with closed angle glaucoma often experience pain in the eyes and fast acting vision loss. This may sound alarming, but the silver lining is that these sudden symptoms often prompt people to visit their doctor. The sooner glaucoma is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat it and prevent more vision loss.
If anything, open angle glaucoma is the type of glaucoma to fear. This type forms gradually in the eye, often without any symptoms. Open angle glaucoma can cause very slight vision loss which, unless tested by a doctor, will likely go undetected by you. As a result people will only seek help once permanent damage to the eye has been done.
Let this be a reminder to schedule regular eye exams, or whenever you notice something off with your eyes.
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Symptoms of Glaucoma
Glaucoma is a very personal disease in the sense that most people have different symptoms and experiences. That being said, it’s important to know the most common symptoms in order to look out for it in your own eyes.
Closed angle symptoms include; eye pain, nausea and/or vomiting, red eyes, unexpected vision loss, and blurred vision. It’s easy to look out for these symptoms as they aren’t symptoms you can ignore.
There are less open angle symptoms, which is more reason to be wary of them. Symptoms include: potential tunnel vision (this normally occurs in the advanced stages of open angle glaucoma), and a gradual loss of peripheral vision.
If you notice that you experience two or more of these symptoms, schedule your eye exam appointment as soon as possible. The more you put it off the worse it becomes.
How Does Glaucoma Affect Driving?
Being that everyone experiences glaucoma differently, it’s only natural that the same be true for how patients with glaucoma drive. Some drive with ease, while others have their licenses taken away for not being able to properly see the road.
Drivers with glaucoma who either refuse or don’t know how to adapt their eyes to drive better are putting themselves and everyone on the road in danger. A study in 2008 found that people with glaucoma were six times as likely to need assistance while driving. However, having glaucoma is no reason to give up driving altogether. There are ways around this disease that allow you to drive safely.
One very dangerous aspect of driving that affects most with glaucoma is the glare from other vehicles’ headlights. Though this problem is less prevalent during the day, it makes night driving or poor weather driving extremely dangerous. As if this type of driving wasn’t dangerous enough imagine not being able to see the road.
Tinted lenses are the best way to deflect the glare. The best colors are yellow, amber, and brown. These tints will reduce the glare of headlights and other light sources on the road, making driving with glaucoma much safer and less stressful. These specially tinted lenses are often available through your eye doctor.
Another way to bypass your glaucoma while driving is to scan the road more frequently. This means to look at your mirrors more frequently and your blind spots. The more you know about what is going on around your car, the better it will be for you and your driving.
A Mercedes-Benz technology center took it upon themselves to test the driving abilities of those with glaucoma. As a result, half of the participants with glaucoma passed the driving test. It was determined that those who had passed the test showed “increased visual exploration” by moving their eyes and head more.
However it is important to consider that this was a study done on a small amount of people and by no means speaks for the majority of glaucoma patients. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to test out your driving skills. Have a family member or friend you trust in the car with you and go for your own test drive. Then have that person let you know what you did well and what you did wrong to improve your driving.
Glaucoma can often be treated using eye drops and/or pills. Both prescription eye drops and pills can help regulate the fluid pressure in the eyes. However, for more advanced cases of glaucoma that go untreated, sometimes these treatments are not enough. It’s important to take care of your eyes and ask your doctor for the best way to treat your glaucoma and how it will affect your driving.