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Philly Study Could Lead to New Driving Laws for Visually Impaired

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Scientists at Philadelphia’s Wills Eye Hospital just released data that suggests drivers with mild glaucoma have a higher-than-average risk of getting involved in traffic collisions. The research team hopes this study will encourage US lawmakers to re-think their policies on allowing the visually impaired to drive.

Over 160 patients with varying degrees of glaucoma took part in this four-year study. The average age of study participants was in the mid-60s, but ages ranged from late-20s to early 80s.

Scientists sent out four questionnaires to participants at one-year intervals. In addition to asking about each patient’s driving habits, researchers were interested in how glaucoma affected a person’s daily tasks.

Every year, between 6 – 11 percent of survey respondents got involved in a car crash. Thankfully, nobody involved in this study suffered severe injuries.

Interestingly, analysts discovered the average rate of traffic accidents in Pennsylvania during the trial period was about 1 percent for citizens in their early to mid-60s. This comparison clearly suggests even mild glaucoma could significantly increase a person’s risk of getting involved in a crash.

Dr. Jonathan Myers, a glaucoma specialist at the Wills Eye Center, was the lead author of this study. In recent interviews, Dr. Myers said he believes the loss of peripheral vision was a key contributor to the glaucoma patients’ higher susceptibility to traffic accidents.

Although more research is needed to better understand this correlation, researchers hope lawmakers will take these findings seriously. Study authors also encourage greater dialogue between the legal and medical communities to better formulate safe driving laws for the visually impaired.

According to the World Health Organization, glaucoma is now the second leading cause of blindness around the globe. There are many different types of glaucoma, but they all cause irreversible damage to a patient’s optic nerve.

A telltale sign of glaucoma is increased intraocular pressure (IOP). Unfortunately, patients often don’t experience visual symptoms of glaucoma until it has already progressed a great deal. For this reason, it’s essential for patients to get at least one eye exam every two years.

There’s currently no cure for glaucoma, but doctors can significantly halt the disorder’s progression using laser surgery, IOP-reducing drugs, and diet changes.

The results from this study were first presented at a recent gathering of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology. Most likely this study will be published later this year.

For more information on glaucoma, feel free to visit this webpage put together by the National Eye Institute.

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