(Does anyone else find it impossible to drive in the dark? )
I had a hair-raising drive home last Thursday in one of the worst rainstorms in the UK for years. However, I have driven in rain storms before, and it shouldn't have been such an inordinate problem. But it was.
It was the end of October, and it was dark around 5/5.30pm. I left around 7.30pm, so there was no remaining day light. As I left the lights of the town and joined the dual carriageway, I overtook a lorry. I was only doing 50 miles an hour, and the lorry was on my inside, but as I looked forwards, out over the steering wheel, I suddenly thought I wasn't going to make it through the gap. The windscreen wipers were going like the clappers, the headlights of the lorry were suddenly blinding me as I came level with it. I couldn't see the central barrier on my right side. I felt sweaty, and thought maybe this was it, my time was up. I forged on and managed the overtaking somehow, but then I pulled immediately into the slow lane and let the same lorry overtake me. Hunched over the wheel and frightened, I drove home in the slow lane along the motorway, tucked in behind a stream of quiet traffic, meekly following the tail lights ahead of me.
Now I'm 55, and in truth I have noticed problems with my night vision for some time.
So - what can I do?
I have only recently had an eye test, and new glasses. But I immediately arranged another visit to the optician. I also went to the garage to have my headlights checked.
Five million people in the UK suffer from dry eyes, mostly middle aged and older people. Funnily enough it may present as watery eyes, as if they eyes are too dry, they compensate by producing too many tears!
The optician was very thorough. There was no cataracts. Yes my eyes are dry, but he could see they were adequately lubricated with my eye drops. He said I had yellowing of the lenses - a common ageing phenomenon. Rather like our teeth getting yellow. There's nothing that can be done about it, but it means light is refracted differently in the eye and it can affect night driving. I just need to drink lots of water.
There is a rare condition called retinitis pigmentosa which causes night blindness, but thankfully, he says, I don't have it.
At the garage, they found that the beam of my headlights had been angled down, and was not in the correct position. He showed me how to reposition the beam. I am glad this was so simple.
Here are some recommendations about keeping your eyes healthy:
• Eat a diet rich in Vitamin A, i.e. tomatoes, carrots and green vegetables. Plus omega 3 fatty acids, so plenty of oily fish, salmon, sardines and mackerel.
• Wear sunglasses in bright sunlight. Protect the eyes from strong sunlight. It's going from a brightly lit house out into the car in the dark that is a problem. Older eyes don't adjust so quickly to the change from light to darkness.
• Wear protective eye wear for sport, e.g. cycling, to try and prevent wind drying the eye.
• Working for long periods in front of the computer is not good for your eyes. When we blink we wash tears over the front of the eye, keeping it moist. Research has shown the blinking rate goes down from 22 blinks/minute, to just 5-6/minute while staring at the screen!
• Avoid working in a hot, dry environment. Keep cool and sit in humidified air, to help prevent the eye from drying out.
• Medication may cause dry eyes e.g. beta blockers, antihistamines and some antidepressants.
• Menopause can affect the eye because of changes in hormone levels. At menopause, some women complain of dry, sore eyes and HRT can improve this, although studies have shown conflicting results. It may not be oestrogen but testosterone deficiency that is the culprit for dry eyes.
So what can be done to help people with difficulty with night driving?
Applying some artificial tears ten minutes before driving ensures there is a liquid film over the cornea and helps the cornea to function properly.
I now have a new pair of long distance glasses purely for driving. Usually I wear varifocals. These are plain, not tinted, but have an antireflective coating. This has made an enormous difference to my night time driving confidence and ability. I keep these in the car. I still find the glare of the cars coming the other way, very disconcerting.
Oh - and keep your windscreen clean!
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