We spend a lot of time touting the power of technology to help drivers do their jobs better. But arguably, there’s no more important tool that drivers have than their eyes.
If you’ve had a heart attack, with good treatment and the right diet, you can get your Medical Examiner’s Certificate renewed and return to the cab.
If you’ve lost a limb, with training and an approved prosthetic device, you can get earn an exception on your medical certificate and driver commercially.
You can do the same if you get your diabetes under control or properly address other significant, career-threatening illnesses.
But lose your eyesight and your career is over.
August is National Eye Exam Month, so now’s a great time to ask a question: When is the last time you had your vision checked?
Eye diseases are common and treatable
While some people lose their eyesight suddenly to injury or disease. More commonly it’s lost gradually over time, and — seemingly overnight — drivers are no longer fit to get behind the wheel.
Ocular diseases and conditions are common. Many are relatively minor and can be corrected easily with proper prescription eyewear, medication and/or some combination of eye exercises and new techniques for viewing in certain light conditions or road environments. For private vehicle drivers, such ocular eye diseases or conditions are bothersome but not career threatening. But for commercial drivers the failure to properly address minor health conditions or diseases affecting the eyes early on can lead to major, career-threatening problems a few years down the road.
For example, it’s not unusual for commercial drivers who’ve never had a prescription for corrective lens to become reliant upon reading glasses in certain situations as they age. For many, that’s all the visual help they’ll ever need. But symptoms typically resolved by buying a cheap pair of "readers" – eye strain from prolonged use, sensitivity to light, or just the blurriness of words on the page at arm’s length as one ages — also can be the initial symptoms to more serious visual health issues such as macular degeneration.
Cataracts also can be spotted and effectively dealt with early on, but many people ignore those early symptoms or just use dime-store reading glasses and over-the-counter eye drops as a solution and hope the problem will go away. That can lead to major surgery and reduced visual acuity later on. And for commercial drivers that can be a career-ender.
However, by visiting an eye doctor at least once every two years, drivers can uncover many eye health issues early. In most cases, they then can be effectively treated, and the driver can remain on the road for many more years.
Retinopathy – typically, but not always, caused by diabetes or high blood pressure – is the leading cause of loss of eyesight among working-age adults. It is the subtle and gradual re-shaping of the retina as a result of higher than normal pressures in the eye itself, and, for all practical purposes, it is irreversible if allowed to progress beyond the very early stages. So truckers who have either of those common medical issues need to visit an eye doctor annually, even if their underlying medical conditions are being kept under control by medication and/or diet.
Large carriers proactively providing eye care
Increasingly, large trucking firms are emphasizing proactive eye care for their drivers. They do so in part to retain as many drivers as possible. But they also are acting out of genuine concern for valued employees who also are friends and respected colleagues. Still, thousands of drivers—both independent owner/operators and those employed by trucking concerns that have not yet made such a commitment to drivers’ eye health— must be their own eye health advocates.
That means taking the initiative to schedule annual or biennial eye exams. And they must educate themselves about eye health and learn to interpret what various types of eye pain and symptoms might mean. While self-diagnosis is never a solution, noticing small changes in visual acuity, field of vision, light sensitivity, color recognition and overall physical eye comfort and scheduling an eye exam can be the first step toward saving a driver’s sight and career.
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