Dr. Mark Siegel, MD FAAO|January 25, 2012 8:14 pm

Cataracts and night driving

By Mark Siegel

Each year I examine thousands of patients with varying grades of cataracts. Invariably, many of these patients notes some degree of difficulty with night driving, glare or halos from oncoming headlights, or simply mentions “discomfort” from driving at night. Most people would agree that night driving poses a greater challenge than driving in daylight. This concern is considerably greater for those people with cataracts as having a cataract can make night driving quite stressful-and possibly unsafe.

Night vision problems are not unusual even for people who do not have Cataracts. First, there is the issue of a condition that affects night vision called “night myopia”. Research has demonstrated that in dim lighting, and especially at night, we lose the ability to accurately maintain our focus. This may be due to the fact that under dim or dark lighting conditions, the pupil of our eyes dilates and become larger causing a decrease in our “depth of focus”. This phenomenon occurs regardless of age but may be more significant as we get older and especially for those who have cataracts as they often experience night driving problems.

A cataract is a clouding of the Crystalline Lens of the eye that causes blurring or hazing of vision as well as a scattering of light that can create glare sensitivity and even halos around lights. These types of disturbances in vision may be even more noticeable for night driving. When we add glare and halo problems to the “night myopia” problem, it is easy to understand why driving with cataracts can be difficult and why night driving problems with cataracts are especially troubling for some patients. In addition, the ability to see well in low contrast situations, such as night driving, is critical in seeing lane markers, curbs, barriers and objects in the road. Cataracts reduce your ability to see in low contrast. All in all, driving at night with a cataract can be a challenge. According to the study reported in Archives of Ophthalmology in 2001, older drivers with cataracts have poor low contrast vision and thus have 2.5 times greater motor vehicle collision risk than those without cataracts.

If you think that you may be developing a cataract or have been told that you have cataracts, please discuss any difficulty that you might be experiencing with night vision problems and night driving problems with your cataract surgeon or eye doctor. Let them know of your concerns so that they can most effectively help you determine if cataract surgery with intraocular lens (IOL) Implantation is an option to maintain your lifestyle and avoid any undue safety issues while driving.

The information that has been provided here is intended to give patients an understanding of how cataracts can cause night vision problems and night driving problems. It is possible that your individual experience might be different. None of the information provided here is meant to be a substitute for or replace your eye doctor’s consultation nor does it replace the need for you to consult with your cataract surgeon about specific details of cataract surgery and intraocular lens (IOL) implantation.

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