Do you have difficulty seeing at night? Night blindness is common among older drivers, but trouble seeing at night can also be caused by a number of eye conditions that affect people of all ages.
Despite the name “night blindness,” the condition does not mean that someone becomes completely blind at night. Rather, an individual with night blindness may have difficulty distinguishing between objects at night or see halos around lights at night.
Night blindness is most dangerous when someone who has trouble seeing in the dark gets behind the wheel of a car. Headlights of oncoming cars and streetlights on the road can make it especially difficult to see clearly and drive safely.
There are a number of eye conditions, vitamin deficiencies and chronic diseases that can affect your night vision and ability to see while driving at night, including:
Age: As we age, our pupils don’t dilate in the dark as much as they should, thus reducing the amount of light that enters our eyes. The corneas also become less clear with age, increasing the amount of glare you may see and reducing contrast sensitivity, which can make it difficult to distinguish between objects at night.
Presbyopia: Presbyopia develops with age and can make focusing and adjusting to light changes more difficult. It may also make driving at night or in the rain more challenging for older adults.
Glaucoma: Glaucoma is a buildup of pressure in the eye that can affect peripheral vision. Without peripheral vision, it is difficult to see what is going on around you, which is especially dangerous while driving.
Cataracts: Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye, which blurs the field of vision and makes it difficult to see objects clearly. Cataracts may further inhibit nighttime driving vision as many with cataracts describe much difficulty with glare and halos from oncoming headlights.
Diabetic retinopathy: A condition in the back of the eye caused by diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy can cause a significant loss of vision and is the leading cause of retinal blindness in adults ages 20-64.
Retinitis pigmentosa: An uncommon genetic disorder in which dark pigment collects in the retina, creating tunnel vision. This condition typically affects people under 30. Worsening night vision is one of its earliest symptoms.
Nutritional deficiency: A deficiency of vitamin A and zinc can also contribute to night blindness. Although it’s rare, not getting enough vitamin A in your diet could affect your night vision. Zinc helps the body absorb vitamin A, so without zinc, vitamin A is not as effective.
Sun exposure: Without proper eye protection, sun exposure can temporarily impair night vision for up to two days. Wearing sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays will prevent temporary night blindness due to sun exposure.
Complications following LASIK eye surgery: Though it’s uncommon, a patient who has had LASIK eye surgery may experience distorted night vision after surgery. The most common complaint is seeing a glare or halos around lights at night.
Improving your night vision depends on the underlying cause of the condition. If cataracts are the cause of your night vision problems, cataract surgery should help improve your overall vision, including nighttime vision. If diabetic retinopathy is the cause of your night blindness, controlling blood sugars through medicine and diet can help prevent vision loss.
If you have any trouble distinguishing between objects at night, or if you see halos around lights in the dark, let your doctor know. These may be early symptoms of a more serious eye condition, and early diagnosis may save your vision.