Good eyesight is vital for a truck driver. Yet, the hours spent peering through your windshield day after day in both sunny and snowy conditions does affect the health of your eyes and increases your risk of developing cataracts. Cataracts are responsible for half the blindness and one third of vision impairment throughout the world.
When a cataract forms, it causes the usually clear lens of your eye to become cloudy. Your lens, the clear part of the eye that lies behind the iris and the pupil, helps focus light or an image on the retina. The lens is composed of mostly water and protein, precisely arranged to remain clear, which allows light to pass through. To enable you to clearly see objects up close and far away, your lens adjusts to focus.
In a healthy eye, light passes through the transparent lens to the retina – light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye – where the image is recorded and changed into nerve signals that are sent to the brain for interpretation. For the retina to receive a sharp, distinct image, the lens must be clear. If a lens becomes cloudy from a cataract, this image becomes blurry.
Cataracts usually develop slowly as the protein begins to clump together and form a small cloudy area in the lens.
People with cataracts perceive images as though looking through a frosty or fogged-up window, making it difficult to drive a vehicle (especially at night), read, and/or complete any detailed tasks. In the early stages, this condition won’t affect your vision. However, advanced cataracts make driving and completing other vision-dependent tasks impossible.
With cataracts, even before your lens becomes noticeably cloudy, your vision may be affected as follows: blurry or cloudy images; less vibrant colors; deteriorating night vision; double vision; spots or dots appearing in your vision; multiple images in one eye; glare, where headlights, lamps and/or sunlight seem too bright; difficulty focusing on reading materials; and/or frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions. Since these symptoms can also indicate other eye problems, I recommend that you check with your eye care professional to ensure your vision meets the standard for a professional driver.
Most cataracts are related to the regular effects of aging, but eye trauma, radiation exposure, skin diseases, and medications can also contribute to their development.
Cataracts occur more frequently in people with other health issues, too. The following factors increase your risk: excessive exposure to sunlight or glare; diabetes; obesity; family history; inadequate Vitamin C intake; high blood pressure; extended use of corticosteroid medication; smoking; excessive alcohol consumption; and/or previous eye inflammation, injury, or surgery.
So far, studies have discovered no way to prevent cataracts from forming, but doctors still recommend the following strategies.
Wear sunglasses that block UVB (ultraviolet B) rays, especially when driving. Wear a brimmed hat to shade your eyes from sunlight. Lower your truck’s sun visor to reduce glare and reflected sunlight. Manage personal health concerns (especially diabetes). Quit smoking. Reduce alcohol consumption. Get seven hours of good quality, uninterrupted sleep nightly.
Include antioxidant-rich foods in your diet, such as colorful fruits and vegetables. As well, research shows that pycnogenol, an antioxidant found in pine bark extract, may help reduce your risk.
Unfortunately, once a cataract begins to form, it will continue to develop – no medications effectively treat cataracts.
Early symptoms can be resolved with prescription glasses. For advanced cataracts, surgery, a safe, effective remedy, removes the cataract and replaces it with an artificial lens.
Because this artificial lens can also correct other eye conditions, such as astigmatism, you may get the additional benefit of no longer requiring corrective lenses. Surgery is generally performed on an outpatient basis using local anesthesia, so you can often go home on the same day as the operation.
As a trucker, your livelihood depends on clear vision; keep an eye out for your eye health.
Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.