Dark days and keeping safe

Health : Seeing clearly and staying safe on the roads when the nights draw in
“Sorry mate I didn’t see you” (known as a SMIDSY). Anyone who has ever cycled will have heard this one before. As a person on a bike in this situation my choice of response (best conveyed by a look rather than words) is usually “because you didn’t look mate”. As an optician, it is “you need an eye test and to wear the recommended glasses with anti-reflection coatings mate”. Silently handing them my card could be the way to go.
While Sheffield and The Peak District do look wonderful in the autumn the shorter days do mean less light and greater demands on the eyes. More people come in for eye tests at this time because it feels to them that all of a sudden, they can’t see bus numbers, road signs or the faces of people on the street.
When I am teaching communication skills to optometrists I always emphasise the rather obvious importance of finding out if the above problems are experienced when the patient’s glasses are on or off. Lots of people sit in the consulting room chair and say they can’t see when they take their specs off … If you do need spectacles to see a number plate at 20.5m and you don’t wear them you are a danger to others and your insurance will be invalid too.
It really is harder to see clearly when it is dark and if you have any focusing issue at all it will have more of an impact than at other times. So, a small prescription change won’t bother you on a sunny summer holiday, but it will when you battle home on a wet Wednesday in October.
Visual difficulties in poor light can be caused by other things in addition to the need for up to date, clean, decent quality spectacle lenses. A reduction in the transparency of the lens in the eye (cataract – something most people will experience with modern life expectancies) can affect clarity, decrease sensitivity to contrast and increase glare. Dry eyes is often an issue for all day screen users, and can cause blurring that gets worse driving home in the dark in an air-conditioned car.
The darker evenings also lead to people struggling with reading smaller print and cursing modern light bulbs. Plenty of people in their mid-40s also come in determined to argue that newspaper print is not a clear as it used to be – are you sure? The stiffening of the lens in the eye (presbyopia) that makes us struggle with close work is something we all have to face, but it is the autumn when you can’t ignore it anymore.
My Mum always used to announce gloomily that the nights were drawing in straight after the longest day in June. She may have technically been correct, but it is only when the schools go back that it really feels like it. So, keep yourself and others safe, don’t find yourself saying a SMIDSY. Make sure you get an eye test if you are due or if you feel things could be a bit clearer when you are out and about this autumn.

Karl Hallam