Our annual “fall back” time change that gives us an extra hour of sleep is welcome news for most of us. But there are some unintended consequences of darker evenings, especially for drivers. According to the National Safety Council, traffic death rates are three times greater at night than during the day.
In a special rebroadcast of the Healthy Vision with Dr. Val Jones show, I interviewed Dr. Christina Schnider, Senior Director, Professional Communications for VISTAKON® Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, about common nighttime driving problems such as dry eyes, headaches, and eye fatigue. I also spoke with John Ulczycki, Group Vice President – Strategic Initiatives, for the National Safety Council, about safe driving tips. You can listen to the show here:
Most people experience a drop in visual acuity in the dark, and this can cause difficulty seeing traffic signs, pedestrians and roadside objects. The primary reason why it’s difficult to see at night is that our pupils dilate to let in as much light as possible. The trade off with large pupils is that visual acuity suffers. It’s normal for the average person’s visual acuity to drop from 20/20 to 20/40 in low light conditions.
Because of vision challenges, driving in low-light conditions can fatigue the eyes and head and neck muscles as the driver strains to see the environment more clearly. Dry eyes can occur from reduced blink rates and motor vehicle heating and cooling systems. Glasses wearers may have a reduced field of vision which further complicates driving in the dark. In fact, in a recent survey one -in-three drivers reported that they didn’t see well at night.
Dr. Schnider and Mr. Ulczycki suggest that night time driving may be safer (and more comfortable) with these tips:
1. Update your eyeglass or contact lens prescription(s). Since darkness reduces visual acuity, wearing lenses that correct your vision to 20/20 in normal light conditions is extra important. Old glasses or contacts with outdated vision correction power can make driving in the dark more hazardous. If you experience significant challenges seeing at night, you may have a condition called “nighttime myopia” and should visit your eye doctor for advice.
2. Avoid driving long distances in low-light conditions. Since we already know that driving in the dark can cause eye fatigue, dry eyes, and reduced visual acuity, it’s best to minimize the time you spend behind the wheel during dark hours. Whenever possible, plan your travel so that the majority of your driving time occurs during daylight hours.
3. Take frequent breaks. Even though it’s tempting to push through your fatigue and finish driving those last miles to your destination, it’s safer to give yourself (and your eyes) a break. Stopping for gas or at a rest area may improve your alertness and visual fatigue. Remember that impaired drivers are more likely to be on the road at night, so vigilance on your part may prevent an accident.
4. Decrease your night-time driving speed. If you do need to drive in the dark, doing so more slowly may prevent accidents. Traveling at a slower speed can improve reaction time under lower-visibility conditions.
5. Check your headlights. It is estimated that 50% of all motor vehicle headlights are not optimally aligned. Potholes and bumps in the road can jolt the lights out of alignment. It’s important not to look directly at oncoming headlights. This can temporarily blind you as your pupils adjust to a quick change in lighting conditions.
I have been wearing contact lenses for about twenty five years. Overall, I’ve been very happy with them, and have found that they have improved my vision as well as my self-esteem. As a very nearsighted person, my glasses have the proverbial “Coke bottle” lenses. Even though I’ve chosen “ultra-thin” lenses, the refractory nature of the plastic causes my eyes to appear unusually small, giving me the appearance of a juvenile badger (they have pretty small eyes for the size of their heads – check out the photo).
Needless to say, I prefer wearing contact lenses – but I must confess that I’ve been somewhat non-compliant in wearing them according to my eye doctor’s instructions. I’ve learned a few things from my mistakes, and from interviewing optometrists Jason Pingel and Christi Clausson about other patients who have been naughty. I will summarize six of the most common mistakes that contact lens wearers make, and explain what the potential harms can be. You can listen to the full podcast of this interesting interview, here:
Wearing Your Contact Lenses For Too Long – this was my biggest personal mistake. It’s tempting to wear your contact lenses beyond the recommended replacement schedule in order to save money, or for simple convenience. My contacts felt so comfortable that I’d wear them (don’t gasp in horror) for months at a time, even sleeping in them at night. But after a while my eyes started hurting when I took my contacts out, which just perpetuated the cycle of over-wear. In effect, I was depriving my corneas of oxygen for long enough to kill some of the superficial cells, so when I took my lenses out it was like removing a bandage from a wound. My corneas were sensitive to light, touch, and even the wind. This medical condition is called “superficial punctate keratitis” and although it’s reversible with eye rest, it is quite uncomfortable. If you wear your contacts for too long, this could happen to you.
Using Tap Water To Re-Wet Your Lenses – Sometimes when a piece of lint gets in your eye or your eyes are feeling dry you may be tempted to rinse your lenses with some tap water. Although that seems harmless enough, tap water is not safe for use with contact lenses. Tap water is not sterile, and it can contain bacteria or even protozoa that can cause serious damage to your eye. Just as you would never drink salt water, you should never expose your contacts to tap water. The risk of eye discomfort, alteration of the lens, pH imbalances, or even infection is not worth the risk.
Not Washing Your Contact Lens Case Regularly – At least a third of contact lens wearers report cleaning their cases monthly or less often. Obviously, mold spores and bacteria are not good for the eyes, so if you aren’t cleaning your lens case frequently you are putting yourself at risk for eye infection and allergies. Lens cases should be rubbed and rinsed with sterile solution recommended by your eye care provider, dried with a lint free towel or and allowed to air dry with both the case and cap(s) down before re-use.
Not Changing your Contact Lens Solution – Dr. Pingel told me that many of his patients admit to “topping off” their contact lens solution or storing them in the same solution from the day prior. This increases the risk of bacterial growth in the solution and lens case. The way I think of it – it’s like having a surgeon simply wipe off her instruments on her gown between patients. It’s much safer for her to dispose of the instruments or have them sterilized before the next use, right? The same goes for contact lenses and their solution.
Not Washing Your Hands Before Touching Your Eyes Or Lenses – Our hands are exposed to hundreds of different bacterial strains, molds, dirt, and chemicals every day. Not washing your hands with mild soap and water prior to touching your contacts is like touching your eyeball to a door knob. Why take the risk of introducing chemicals or bacteria into your delicate eye area? It’s very important to wash your hands carefully before insertion and removal of contact lenses so as not to increase your risk of infection, allergy, or chemical burns of the eye.
Not Sharing Your Contact Lenses With Others (Or Buying Them Without A Prescription) – While that might sound like an uncommon practice, it actually becomes an issue around Halloween time. With cosmetic lenses that can make your eyes look like anything from a cat to a zombie, it is tempting to share lenses with friends. However, you should not purchase or wear cosmetic lenses without an examination by an eye doctor and a prescription to ensure they fit safely and comfortably. Delicate corneal skin can be scratched, irritated, or even infected by unclean or ill-fitting lenses. No one wants their real eyes to look scary, right? So please don’t buy lenses without a prescription or share your lenses with others.
For more information about safe wear and care of contact lenses, I highly recommend that you check out the Healthy Vision & Contact Lenses e-brochure. It is a terrific summary of all the most important do’s and don’ts of contact lens wear and care – perfect for double-checking on your safe use behaviors, or teaching your kids/teens about how to care for their lenses. Or you can use my blog post and podcast to badger them (pun intended), if that’s more convenient.
Disclosure: Dr. Val Jones is a paid consultant for VISTAKON® Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc.
I’m a dermatologist’s dream – a fair-skinned, freckly person with lots of small moles. The perfect candidate for a lifetime of 6-month skin checks!
Luckily for me, none of my moles have ever been cancerous. To be honest (please look the other way, dermatologist friends) I have sometimes put off skin checks for fear of being invited to undergo yet another biopsy. I’ve had about 9 procedures so far, and I have the scars to prove it. But this time around, I found a product that really reduced my healing time and scarring. I’m so excited about the results that I don’t care if I need a total-body shave biopsy next year. Bring it on! No one will be able to tell.
It is a little surprising that hydrocolloid gel technology hasn’t been on the consumer market for all that long (I wasn’t able to figure out when this product was launched in retail stores but it seems to me that I’ve only seen it around for the last few years or so). Hydrocolloid dressings are a staple in wound healing in the hospital setting, and I’ve seen marvelous results with pressure ulcer repair in the hands of experienced wound care nurses. The gel essentially creates a moist scaffold for skin cells to fill in defects and divots. The gel absorbs moisture from the skin and wound “oozing” while creating a sterile barrier against dirt and germs. The scab-less healing creates minimal scar tissue and the bandage is hypo-allergenic and incredibly flexible.
The product I used is called ActivFlex premium adhesive bandages (a Johnson & Johnson Band-Aid brand). I’ve seen generic knock-offs on store shelves but haven’t tried them. All I can say is that the experience has been terrific, and it’s such a relief to know that I don’t need to worry about scars from small cuts, burns, or mole biopsies any more. This is a fantastic invention – and I’d love to hear from others (be they dermatologists, plastic surgeons, or regular users of the product) to find out if they’ve had the same luck!
No need to fear skin checks anymore, my fair-skinned friends. You can recover nicely from procedures with a little hydrocolloid help from your local grocery store or pharmacy.
Social media has changed the landscape in health care. Social media is a powerful and phenomenal platform to help educate consumers, raise awareness of health issues and connect with consumers and colleagues.
Social media gives a voice to patients and consumers and it allows the conversation to get started with doctors and other health care professionals. Social media is all about the patient and it paves the way for new modern medicine to emerge.
Tapping into technology allows for the real-time and immediate exchange of information.
Consumers and physicians tapping into social media networking
Did you know that your 20/20 vision may drop to 20/40 when you’re driving in the dark? That’s because your pupils dilate to try to let in more light, and in so doing, they sacrifice their ability to focus clearly. Night-time driving can be dangerous for many additional reasons, and I had the opportunity to interview two experts about these risks, and how we can reduce our chances of being in harm’s way when we turn our clocks back on November 6th.
Optometrist, Dr. Christina Schneider, Senior Director, Medical Affairs for VISTAKON® Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, spoke with me about common nighttime driving problems such as dry eyes, headaches, and eye fatigue – and what to do about them. We also discussed the risks of driving with an under corrected or uncorrected vision problem, and some of the available options and treatments available to improve our night vision
I also spoke with John Ulczycki, Group Vice President – Strategic Initiatives, for the National Safety Council, about safe driving tips. Please listen to the conversation here:
Traffic safety experts report that fatal motor vehicle accidents are three times more common at night. So how can we improve our nighttime driving safety? John’s tips include: Read more »
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