Cataract surgery could drastically improve your safety behind the wheel: Study

Oct 14, 2019
By the age of 80, about half of us will have developed cataracts. Source: Getty

It’s widely known that cataract surgery can restore vision but the decision to undergo the operation is often delayed until the last minute. However researchers in Australia are now urging people to bite the bullet sooner rather than later after they found that cataract surgery could drastically improve a patient’s safety while driving.

Cataracts are the most common cause of blindness in the world. In fact, by the age of 80, around half of us will have developed them. In simple terms, a cataract causes a clouding of the eye’s natural clear lens. As the lens becomes darker, it becomes harder for light to pass through, making it difficult for a person to see.

Glasses can assist for a short time but, eventually, surgery to replace the cloudy lens with an artificial lens is the only way to restore vision. The surgery is low-risk, fast and effective and people typically notice a difference in their vision within two days after surgery, with their vision stabilising in around four weeks.

But to better understand the true benefit of cataract surgery, researchers in Australia decided to evaluate the driving performance of 44 patients before and after cataract surgery. They used a driving simulator which accessed a variety of variables such as adjusted speed limits, traffic densities, uncontrolled intersections and pedestrian crossings. Patients were put through the driving simulator after their first and second surgeries.

After their first surgery, near misses and crashes decreased by 35 per cent. However, after the second surgery the number decreased even further, to 48 per cent. The research was presented over the weekend at AAO 2019, the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

“In Australia and other countries, people may often wait months to receive government funded surgery after a cataract is diagnosed,” lead researcher Jonathon Ng said.

“These results highlight the importance of timely cataract surgery in maintaining safety and continued mobility and independence in older adult drivers.”

If you’re considering cataract surgery, some things to consider include whether you’re having problems reading, watching television or driving, and whether it’s difficult to cook, shop, climb stairs or take medication.

Like many health problems, cataracts can form as part of the ageing process, however, there are other factors that can contribute to the eye condition or make them worse. The biggest risk factor is age, but also diabetes, people who have spent a lot of time outdoors and also smokers.

Heavy alcohol consumption can also cause cataracts to form, while people who experience vascular diseases such as coronary artery disease or high blood pressure may also be more prone to developing them. In some cases, eye injury and the use of some medications may increase the risk, while diets low in fruit and vegetable may also contribute to their formation.

While there isn’t much you can do to slow down the formation of cataracts once it begins, it’s important to know that quitting smoking, having control of your diabetes and wearing sunglasses is important to maintaining good eye health.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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What do you think? Have you had cataracts before?

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