Many senior citizens we see at Excel Laser Vision Institute in Los Angeles for cataract surgery want to be able to maintain their ability to drive and stay independent. To assess whether or not a person is still visually capable of driving, there are laws in place. Some car insurers consider the Snellen acuity as an accurate way of measuring a person’s vision capability. 

Normally, patients who are receiving cataract surgery admit that they try to limit their driving to the store down the road, avoid highways, and never drive after dusk, which only confirms to their ophthalmologist that there is a need for cataract surgery

What Is Snellen Acuity? 

When your eye doctor is assessing your need for cataract surgery, they will often use a Snellen chart, to assess your cranial nerve II, which is the optic nerve. Whenever this is performed, your ophthalmologist will place you in front of a Snellen chart and you will be required to sit or stand at least 20 feet from it. Your doctor will ask you before you start this eye test whether or not you wear glasses. If you normally do, then you will have to wear your glasses for this test. 

When you are set, you will be asked to read the lowest line on the chart that you can see. You will do this by covering your right eye, then your left eye, and then reading the line using both eyes. Depending on which lines from the Snellen chart you can read, your eye doctor can easily determine your visual capability. 

Although the Snellen acuity test is used throughout North America and Europe, some doctors feel that it is a poor assessment of functional vision. Nowadays, there are better measures to determine a person’s working eyesight which includes contrast sensitivity and disability glare testing. 

There is a higher risk for elderly drivers with cataracts to be involved in a car accident. Also, this risk most probably will increase way before the development of a visually significant cataract is apparent. This is why testing how their eyes perform under contrast and glare can determine whether they have an underlying issue with cataracts. 

Why Is Glare A Visible Disability For Drivers? 

Glare can be broken down into four types: dazzling, scotomatic (like a camera flash), discomfort, and disability. Glare sources such as a car’s headlights are partly scattered in the eye. When this happens, it creates a veil of light that lies on top of the image on the retina. This is known as retinal stray light. This glare sensation depends on the amount of glare brightness and glare sensitivity of their eyes. 

Disability glare happens when intraocular retinal stray light lowers visibility and visual performance. This stray light can appear from light scatter in the cornea, lens, and vitreous. The most common causes are corneal opacities, cataract, and asteroid hyalosis. It is very different from discomfort glare, which can be alleviated with sunglasses or glare filters.

A few younger people have some retinal stray light, which drastically increases with age, doubles at the age of 65 and even triples at 77 years of age. A study conducted with 2,422 drivers from five Europeans countries revealed that almost one-third of those aged 75 years and older had a disability glare or a fourfold increase in stray light. 

Can You Drive With Cataracts? 

As the specialists at Excel Laser Vision Institute who perform cataract surgery in Los Angeles will tell you, all types of cataracts will increase stray light, and these effects of retinal stray light are probably a patient’s first symptoms as their cataracts begin to develop. However, every individual person’s cataract is different, and when it is in its early stages it could be so small that it does not affect your vision. You might be able to drive for several years if you do not suffer from any other medical condition. 

Unfortunately, in the long run, cataracts will get worse and cloud your eye lens even more, which will result in dull and blurry vision. Driving with cataracts isn’t easy and you might have to work out the best times for you to drive when your vision isn’t affected; for instance, avoid driving in rainy conditions, at night, rainy weather at night, or driving into the setting sun. 

Besides having a difficult time seeing the road, cataracts make it harder for you to see street signs, other cars and pedestrians since cataracts can cloud the eye’s lens. Here are a few signs that indicate that you could have cataracts. 

  • Colors look washed-out
  • It is difficult to see things in bright light
  • Objects look blurry
  • You sense headlight glare more intensely
  • Seeing at night is nearly impossible
  • You might have double vision

What To Do When Cataracts Affects My Driving?

Your Los Angeles eye doctor will recommend you have cataract surgery depending on the severity of your visual weakness. If you feel that cataract surgery is the best solution for you, your clouded lens will most likely be replaced with a clear artificial lens. Once you have your new, clear lens, you will be able to keep driving safely for many more years to come. Cataract surgery is usually done on an outpatient basis and is the most common surgical procedure in the United States.  

When Can I Drive Again After Cataracts Surgery? 

When your main means of transportation is your car, it is only natural to be eager to get back behind the wheel. So, when can you safely start to drive again after having laser cataract surgery?  

The majority of the time, many people who suffer from cataracts will have to remove them from both eyes. The issue is that usually your cataract surgeon will operate on one eye, wait two to four weeks, then perform the same procedure on the other eye. 

This results in having a different vision in one eye compared to the other for a length of time. Specifically, your depth perception can be significantly different, which can bring on challenges. The best thing to do is wait for both eyes to be operated on before trying to drive again. On a positive note, the recovery time is very short, normally a day or two. 

If you have cataracts, you will need to change your eyeglasses and contact lenses more often. Also, if you have any of these symptoms it is best to seek medical attention immediately. If you need professional and caring advice, call Excel Laser Vision Institute at +1-866-923-9235 today.