Is It Safe to Drive With Macular Degeneration? What to Know About AMD and Driving

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Do you see blank or dark spots in your field of vision when driving? What about lines that appear wavy or curved even though you know they should be straight? 

These visual disturbances can be signs of macular degeneration, an age-related retinal condition that can significantly impact how you drive. As this condition progresses, it becomes important to understand its effects on your driving abilities and determine when adjustments to your driving habits may be necessary. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the safety concerns of driving with macular degeneration and how contact lenses can assist in managing the vision challenges it presents.

What Is Macular Degeneration?

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Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is a condition that primarily affects older adults. It typically leads to a loss of central vision, which is important for doing things like reading, cooking, and driving. AMD can also make it difficult to see in dim light. 

The macula is the part of the retina responsible for clear vision in your direct line of sight. It deteriorates with age, subsequently impacting your ability to see fine details whether up close or at a distance.

There are two main types of AMD: dry and wet.

  • Dry AMD – This is the more common type, and it involves the thinning of the macula. It generally results in gradual vision impairment.
  • Wet AMD – This type of AMD is less common but more severe. It is characterized by the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina, which can cause rapid vision loss.

Symptoms of AMD include:

  • Low vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Problems seeing in low light
  • Changes in the way you see colors
  • Blank or dark spots in your field of vision
  • Straight lines (e.g., road markings) that appear wavy

Macular degeneration can be inherited, but it can also develop in people with no family history of the disease. Non-AMD may be associated with:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Head injuries
  • Infections
  • Poor diet

The progression of AMD is typically slow and painless. It is divided into three stages — early (your macula changes, but vision isn’t affected), intermediate (your vision may get blurry), and late (your central vision fails completely) — based on the extent of macular damage. Recognizing these stages through regular checkups with your eye care provider is vital for timely intervention and effective management of the condition.

Driving With Macular Degeneration: Is It Safe?

Unfortunately, the answer is not a simple yes or no. Your safety and ability to drive with AMD depend heavily on the stage of AMD and the specific challenges it presents to your vision.

How Can Macular Degeneration Affect the Way I Drive?

In the early stages of AMD, while some vision impairment may be experienced, many individuals are able to continue driving. This is especially true if they receive proper treatment and regular monitoring from eye care professionals (ECPs). Adjustments to driving habits, such as avoiding night driving or high-traffic areas, can also make driving with AMD safer.

But as AMD progresses to intermediate and late stages, the loss of central vision becomes more pronounced. This makes it difficult to see faces, read signs, or respond quickly to changes in the driving environment. As such, someone with intermediate or late AMD may have a significantly impaired ability to drive safely.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration highlights the importance of consulting with two types of specialists for drivers with AMD:

  • Driver Rehabilitation Specialists – These professionals can conduct comprehensive driving assessments to evaluate an individual’s ability to drive safely. They can also help determine when it’s necessary to modify driving habits or stop driving altogether.
  • Occupational Therapists – With special training in driving skills assessment and remediation, occupational therapists can offer strategies and modifications to help manage the specific challenges posed by AMD.

For anyone with AMD, regular evaluation by these specialists is crucial to ensuring safety on the road. These assessments help in making informed decisions about continuing to drive or finding alternative modes of transportation to maintain independence without compromising safety.

When Should You Stop Driving With Macular Degeneration?

As AMD progresses to the intermediate and late stages, the significant reduction in central vision can severely impact your ability to perform necessary visual tasks while driving, such as reading road signs, recognizing pedestrians, or detecting other vehicles.

Signs that it may be time to stop driving include:

  • Difficulty seeing road signs or navigating intersections
  • Increased discomfort or anxiety while driving
  • Close calls or minor accidents
  • Advice from an eye care professional based on visual acuity and field tests

If you have intermediate or late stage AMD, continuing to drive could pose serious risks to both you and others on the road. But giving up driving does not mean losing independence. Here are alternative transportation options that can help maintain mobility and social connections:

  1. Riding with family or friends – Carpooling with trusted individuals can offer a safe and social way to get around.
  2. Using taxis or ride-sharing services – Services like Uber and Lyft provide convenient, door-to-door transportation on demand.
  3. Utilizing public transportation – Buses and trains can be a cost-effective way to travel, especially in urban areas with well-established transit systems.
  4. Community transport services – Many communities offer specialized transport services for senior citizens or individuals with disabilities.

Is There a Cure for Macular Degeneration?

Currently, there is no cure for AMD. However, there are effective management strategies that can slow the progression of the disease and mitigate the severity of its symptoms. Treatment options vary depending on the type of AMD and may include nutritional supplements, anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) injection therapy to reduce abnormal blood vessel growth (particularly in wet AMD), and laser therapy.

Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy diet rich in leafy greens and fish, and regular exercise can also play a crucial role in managing AMD. Regular check-ups with an ECP are essential to monitor the condition and adjust treatments as needed.

What Is the Best Treatment for Macular Degeneration?

While there is no cure for AMD, several treatments can help manage its symptoms and slow progression. The best treatment depends on the type of AMD and individual circumstances:

  1. Anti-VEGF Therapy – For wet AMD; injections that inhibit VEGF can slow the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the retina.
  2. Laser Therapy – Used to destroy actively growing abnormal blood vessels in the retina.
  3. Photodynamic Therapy – Involves a drug activated by light that targets and destroys abnormal blood vessels.
  4. Nutritional Supplements – Specific vitamins and minerals may help reduce disease progression in some people with intermediate to advanced dry AMD.

Best Contact Lenses for Macular Degeneration

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Multifocal contacts are an excellent option to consider for people with AMD because these lenses are designed to help with both near and distance vision simultaneously.

BrandReplacement ScheduleDescription
Biofinity® multifocalMonthly– Offers a balanced view for distances near, far, and in-between
– Known for comfort and breathability, which is crucial for long wear times
Proclear® multifocalMonthly– Designed to provide enhanced moisture retention
– Caters to a wide range of prescriptions, from -20.00 to +20.00 diopters
AIR OPTIX® AQUA MultifocalMonthly– Uses a Precision Profile design for clear vision at all distances 
– Made with a material that allows high levels of oxygen through for maximum comfort

Can Contact Lenses Cause Macular Degeneration?

The short answer is no. The idea that contact lenses can cause AMD is a myth.

While it’s important to use contact lenses correctly to avoid complications, there is no evidence linking their proper use to the development of AMD. According to Optometry Times, not only do contact lenses not contribute to AMD, they can also be a valuable aid for individuals with low vision, helping to enhance their quality of life.

That being said, improper use of contact lenses can lead to other eye health issues, including:

  • Corneal Inflammation – This is often due to inadequate contact lens cleaning and overnight wear.
  • Eye Injuries – These can occur if contact lenses are not correctly inserted, removed, or maintained.
  • Eye Infections – These may arise from bacteria or contaminants associated with poor lens hygiene.

While these conditions do not cause AMD, they underscore the importance of following proper lens care and usage guidelines as recommended by ECPs. This ensures that contact lenses remain a safe and effective option for those who need them.

How to Prevent Macular Degeneration

While AMD cannot be completely prevented, certain lifestyle choices can help reduce the risk and slow the progression of the disease:

  1. Maintain a healthy diet – Consuming foods rich in antioxidants, such as leafy greens, and omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish like salmon and sardines, can support eye health.
  2. Exercise regularly – Physical activity can improve blood circulation and help manage weight, reducing the risk factors associated with AMD.
  3. Quit smoking – Smoking significantly increases the risk of AMD, so cessation is strongly recommended.
  4. Protect your eyes from UV light – Wearing sunglasses with UV protection helps mitigate damage from harmful rays, which can contribute to retinal damage.
  5. Get regular eye exams – Early detection through routine eye checks can lead to timely intervention and management of AMD.

When to Contact Your Eye Doctor

Regular communication with your eye doctor is crucial for maintaining eye health, especially as you age or if you are at risk for conditions like AMD. You should make an appointment with your eye doctor if:

  • You notice any sudden changes in your vision, such as blurred or wavy lines, dark spots, or if colors seem faded.
  • You have risk factors for AMD.
  • You experience any persistent discomfort or pain in the eyes.
  • You experience any kind of eye injury.

Conclusion

Driving with AMD requires careful consideration and often adjustments, especially as the condition progresses. Although there is no cure for AMD, effective management strategies and treatment options, including contact lenses for low vision, can significantly help those affected. 

Remember: regular consultations with your ECP are essential to monitor the condition, adapt better driving habits, and maintain overall eye health. By staying informed and proactive about eye care, you can lead a fulfilling life with AMD while prioritizing safety on the road.