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Can You Drive with Macular Degeneration?

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A life-changing symptom of macular degeneration is the deterioration of central vision and can cause low vision. It places limitations on what you can see clearly and can disrupt your daily tasks and activities you rely on for independence, like driving.

Whether you can legally drive with macular degeneration depends on the severity of the condition. There are visual aids available to help improve your vision when driving, preserving your independence.

What Is Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration is a progressive condition that can severely impact your ability to see fine details and perceive colors. It’s caused by the deterioration of the macula, a small area in the center of the retina responsible for sharp and detailed vision. This degradation is often related to aging, but other factors can also contribute, such as:

  • Genetics
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Smoking

Living with Macular Degeneration

Low vision is common among those with macular degeneration, making it difficult to perform daily activities like:

  • Reading
  • Driving
  • Recognizing faces
  • Distinguishing colors
  • Seeing your television or computer screens clearly

The early stages of macular degeneration may not have noticeable symptoms, but as the disease progresses, people may experience different types of low vision:

  • Blurred or distorted vision
  • Night blindness
  • Central vision loss

Adapting to Low Vision

Eyeglasses, contact lenses, and surgery can’t cure low vision, but there are many ways to adapt to low vision caused by macular degeneration. Low vision aids are available, including magnifying glasses, screen readers, and electronic devices specifically designed for people with low vision.

Making simple modifications to your living environment, such as adding brighter lighting, using color contrasts, and rearranging furniture, can also help you navigate your daily life more comfortably.

Driving with Macular Degeneration

A safety concern with low vision related to macular degeneration involves driving. When driving with macular degeneration you may:

  • Not see the road, signs, lane dividers, pedestrians, or cyclists
  • Struggle to adjust to changing light conditions
  • Not be able to distinguish colors

Without these perceptions, you could get into a collision, run off the road, or miss critical road signs. However, visual aids for low vision can help you keep your license and drive safely.

Bioptic Telescopic Lenses

Bioptic lenses involve the use of a telescope mounted on a pair of glasses. The telescopic lenses are focused on distant objects and have a range of magnification levels, allowing those with macular degeneration to see distant objects more, such as road signs. Bioptic lenses can be used for various activities but are particularly useful for driving.

So, how do bioptic lenses work when it comes to driving? Essentially, drivers use their normal vision to scan the road ahead, looking for obstacles and potential hazards. When they need to see a distant object, such as a road sign or upcoming intersection, they quickly glance through the bioptic lens to get a magnified view.

One of the benefits of bioptic lenses for driving is that they can help drivers with macular degeneration pass their vision tests and retain their driver’s licenses. In many states, there are specific requirements for vision when it comes to driving, and those with macular degeneration may struggle to meet those requirements. However, with the use of bioptic lenses, many people with macular degeneration can see well enough to pass the tests and keep their licenses.

Another benefit of bioptic lenses for driving is that they can contribute to improved safety for the driver and others on the road. By being able to see distant objects more clearly, drivers with macular degeneration are better able to anticipate potential hazards, such as upcoming intersections or road signs. Bioptic lenses can help them react more quickly and avoid accidents.

Macular Degeneration Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for macular degeneration yet, but there are treatments that can slow down or prevent further damage. For dry macular degeneration, lifestyle changes can help, such as:

  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Avoiding smoking
  • Wearing sunglasses

Supplements containing vitamins C, E, zinc, and antioxidants may also be recommended.

For wet macular degeneration, the primary treatment is injection therapy, where medication is injected into the eye to block the growth of blood vessels. Laser therapy can also be used to destroy abnormal blood vessels. Regardless of the stage of the condition, low vision devices can help all patients with macular degeneration improve their quality of life. 

Close-up of a senior woman undergoing a slit-lamp exam

Compassionate Eye Care in Hattiesburg

If you’re concerned about driving safely, visit our team for a vision evaluation. Schedule a consultation with Belle Vue Specialty Eye Care to learn how we can help with your low vision.

Written by Megan Lott

Dr. Megan Sumrall Lott is a functional optometrist who practices in Hattiesburg, MS. She is a 2006 graduate of Southern College of Optometry. She began practicing optometry by providing primary eyecare at Lexington Eye Care in Lexington, MS. After providing vision therapy to her 9 month old son to correct an eye turn, Dr. Lott realized she had found her passion in functional optometry.
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