Laser eye treatment `can damage night-driving ability'

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The Independent Online
HI-TECH laser treatments, which have been touted as a "miracle cure" for the visually impaired, may leave patients unable to drive safely at night.

Scientific research, to be broadcast on BBC 1's Watchdog, suggests that seven-out-of 10 people who undergo laser treatment are left with a condition known as Nyctalopia,where the eye is unable to adjust to night glare. While Nyctalopia can be corrected by glasses if a natural sight defect, the "ghosting" effect is sometimes untreatable following a laser procedure.

Watchdog tested the night vision of a small group of post-operative patients at the Transport Research Laboratory in Berkshire. In a simulated night driving test, four-out-of-five of those tested could not read a road sign 55 metres in front of them, most struggled at 25 metres, while two patients could not read signs until they were 10-15 metres away.

In Germany, where the scientific study used by Watchdog was produced, night vision must reach a certain standard to drive legally in the dark. At present there is no such requirement in Britain, raising fears that "miracle cure" treatments, advertised in women's magazines and national newspapers, are throwing up a major safety hazard.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind is becoming increasingly concerned that patients are not being given the full facts. "It's an operation, and like all operations there are risks," said the RNIB's low vision officer, Barbara Ryan. "It's not simply a `throw away your glasses' operation as is often claimed.The treatment etches your prescription to your eye so even if you don't need glasses in the short term, you may still need them in the longer term."

`Watchdog Healthcheck' is to be screened at 7.30pm on BBC 1

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