Eye Conditions that Make Riding a Motorcycle Difficult
When driving any type of vehicle, decent vision is a requirement. You must have legal driving visual acuity. In Florida, your vision must be 20/40 or better with some exceptions. That means that a person with “perfect vision” would be able to see something 40 feet away. You’d need to move closer to 20 feet if your acuity was 20/40. In some cases, a person may be able to drive when either eye is at 20/70 or one eye is 20/200. That is because when both eyes are open, acuity improves. Lighting also improves vision, so some people may be able to see better during daylight hours. Many of the eye conditions that make riding a motorcycle difficult are treatable, but some force a rider to put up his or her bike for good.
Eye Conditions that Make Riding a Motorcycle Difficult
Dry Eye Syndrome
One of the most common eye conditions that you’ll find wreaking havoc on a motorcyclist’s ride is dry eye syndrome. This condition can be caused by many things including your eyes not producing enough tears or the right kind of tears. It can also be caused by conditions such as wind or low humidity.
Dry eye syndrome can cause a decrease in visual acuity. This is because it affects the cornea, which is the clear outer surface covering the pupil. The cornea is like a windshield. When it has some tears and some dry spots, it is like a windshield in the rain without wipers. Even when a motorcyclist blinks, the wipers (lids) don’t work well because there isn’t any windshield wiper fluid. A person with perfect vision may be reduced to illegal driving vision because of this.
In severe cases of dry eye syndrome, a person may need a prescription or simple eye procedure to increase tear production or retention. For the motorcyclist with common dry eye syndrome, the solutions are simple.
First, the motorcyclist with dry eyes can use eye lubrication. These are over-the-counter eye drops made to act as windshield wiper fluid, and they can keep the cornea clear for hours. Motorcyclists can also make sure they wear eye protection to limit the drying effect of the wind. Dry eyes can also cause problems with glare and nighttime vision.
Another condition many people have, especially as they age, is night blindness. This means that your eyes don’t pick up light as easily as they should in low-light conditions. Many night blindness scenarios are caused by underlying eye conditions, and motorcyclists who feel they are suffering should see an eye doctor. Sometimes, night blindness can be a long-term progressive disease such as glaucoma. In other cases, it can be a simple vitamin deficiency. Everyone gets a condition called cataracts as they age, and this can also reduce night vision. Sometimes, a pair of yellow tinted glasses can reduce the perception of night blindness, but it still warrants an eye exam to make sure you aren’t at risk of further vision loss.
While dry eyes are akin to having no windshield wiper fluid, corneal scarring is akin to having many rock chips in your windshield. The motorcyclist with a lot of corneal scarring may have trouble at night, as oncoming headlights may produce a lot of glare when the light bounces off the scar. Many of these scars are permanent.
Because they are typically permanent, the best way to take care of corneal scarring is to prevent it. Wear eye protection. Anyone can get a foreign body in their eye, but those most prone to it are people who don’t wear eye protection when it is required. This generally involves those in industrial jobs where foreign bodies are common. Take care of your eyes by wearing protection, and reduce your risk for corneal scarring.
Additionally, things like dry eyes can eventually lead to corneal scarring. Using eye drops can limit any scarring that could occur.
The retina is in the back of your eye. It’s where all the rods and cones are that pick up light signals and send them to your brain via the optic nerve. If you have a retinal disease, your ability to pick up light signals is reduced. This can mean that you are totally blind, require increased light, or are only partially blind. Retinal diseases include macular degeneration, as the macula is the center part of your retina responsible for clear, color vision. It can also mean more abrupt retinal events such as detachments, which require surgery to prevent blindness.
For the motorcyclist, a retinal disease may be something that is not progressive. It may be scarring in the peripheral retina that reduces night vision but overall doesn’t disrupt vision too much. It may also be progressive, such as macular degeneration. Having a retinal disease doesn’t mean that you cannot ride. It does mean you need to have regular eye exams to know what you can do to improve your vision and when is the appropriate time to give up the ride.
Glaucoma or Optic Nerve Eye Conditions
Many people have heard of the term glaucoma, but very few actually understand it. Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve, the bundle of nerves that takes light signals from the retina to the brain. Glaucoma damages these nerves, and the result is a loss of peripheral vision. This can be measured in a visual field test. In the State of Florida, a person must have a visual field of 130 degrees in order to legally drive. The problem with this is that people may not notice they have lost their field of vision because of the brain’s ability to fill in missing pieces of vision. Testing is the only way to know you have a full field of vision.
There are many other optic nervous diseases that can impact field of view including swelling and atrophy. This could indicate a cerebral event such as a tumor or stroke. It could also indicate other systemic diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
Glaucoma is a treatable condition, as are many other optic nerve diseases. The only way to ensure optic nerve health is to go to the eye doctor.
Eye Conditions are a Motorcyclist’s Responsibility
There are many things that a motorcyclist must do in order to ride safely, and one of those things is knowing about his or her eye conditions. This means wearing corrective lenses when indicated and using eye drops when you have dryness. However, it also means the bigger responsibility of getting eye exams to check for eye conditions that you may not be able to detect.
Don’t think this is possible? Each of us already has a blind spot in each eye where the optic nerve connects to the back of the eye. It shows up on a visual field exam, but we never notice it because of binocular vision and the ability of the brain to adapt. You can check out one way to detect your blind spot here.
Ultimately, it is the motorcyclist’s responsibility to make sure he or she is safe to drive, and that means checking for eye conditions that could make riding difficult. It could prevent a deadly accident.