As the clocks go back this Sunday, leading surgeons are warning of the latest danger on Britain’s roads – drivers with undiagnosed or untreated cataracts.
A distracting glare from lights when driving at night is a main side effect of cataracts, and an alarming 55 percent of drivers aged over 65 suffer from this, putting themselves and others at serious risk.
Surgeons have dubbed the end of British Summer Time and the move to darker evenings ‘the advent of the cataract season’ as the extended night-time driving hours exacerbate this major motoring safety issue.
New research, commissioned by specialist eye hospital group Optegra, reveals that 66 per cent of Brits aged over 65 are still driving, rising to 84 per cent of men. Shockingly, almost two thirds (58 per cent) of drivers who admit to experiencing the distracting glare do not feel safe driving at night.
Yet an overwhelming 70 per cent of those who noticed distracting glare have put up with it for more than a year!
With one in three over 65s expected to suffer vision impairing cataract at some point, key symptoms such as glare from lights and cloudy vision are making driving hazardous, warns Optegra.
But with only 17 per cent of Brits over 65 recognising the distracting glare from lights as one of the main side effects of a cataract, the impaired vision, and the subsequent danger on the road this causes, is being left untreated.
Mr James Ball, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Optegra, says: “Many people are just coping with, and in some cases ignoring, these terrible vision problems. To drive in a haze of cloudiness is just not safe. Add to that the disabling glare from lights as the nights will now draw in and drivers really are putting themselves, and others, at risk.
“It is worrying that while there are specific symptoms of having a cataract there is vast unawareness of the majority of these symptoms.”
Less than half (45 per cent) of 65 year olds recognise cloudy vision as being caused by a cataract and a third of Brits (33 per cent) admit they just don’t know what the symptoms are, including:
Becoming more short sighted even in glasses – only 15 per cent of Brits over 65 are aware of this
Only one in 10 (10 per cent) know colours fade
And a mere five per cent know you can get double vision, even with one eye closed
Mr Ball concludes: “It is vital that people aged over 65 know the first symptoms of cataract so they can look into diagnosis and treatment as early as possible, and dramatically improve their quality of life. We have so many patients who say they feel like a net curtain has been lifted once they have had the simple procedure, and are given a new lease of life.
“We call on anyone who notices glare at this time of year to have their eyes checked, and to rest assured that this is the most commonly performed elective procedure in the world – why put yourself, and others, at risk on the roads?”
The research also showed that while the majority (86 per cent) of over 65s do realise that cataracts are curable, the lack of awareness of symptoms may be why 70% of drivers are putting up with distracting glare while driving.
This may link to the fact that there is no national visual acuity threshold that determines whether a patient is eligible for cataract surgery on the NHS, potentially leaving patients to delay treatment longer than they should.
Indeed the RNIB has reported a great variation on service provision: “Over 50% of commissioners have introduced arbitrary thresholds to restrict access to cataract surgery. They do so without a robust evidence base and, therefore, cannot be sure that they are providing optimum care or protecting patients from avoidable harm. A small number of commissioners have also cited that the restrictions are in place due to financial pressures.”
Two thirds of Brits of this age group (62 per cent) also do not realise that there is a procedure which can free them from glasses and contact lenses as well as cataracts. ClarivuTM permanent lens replacement is a technically advanced and sophisticated development of cataract surgery, which can not only can remove the cataract but also provide an advanced Intra Ocular Lens (IOL) to correct both long and short sightedness in one procedure. After Clarivu, in most cases, patients will not need either reading or driving glasses.