Signs and Causes of Night Vision Problems

Posted By Key-Whitman Eye Center || 12-Sep-2014

Signs and Causes of Night Vision ProblemsIf you have trouble seeing at night, you’re not alone. Night vision problems affect millions of Americans, and while difficulty seeing at night may simply be the result of aging or an early sign of cataracts, night vision problems can also signal more serious eye conditions.

People who have night vision problems, or night blindness, have difficulty seeing at night or in dimly lit environments. Despite the name “night blindness,” the condition does not mean someone becomes completely blind at night. Rather, an individual with night blindness may have difficulty distinguishing between objects or see halos around lights at night.

Night vision problems pose the greatest danger when driving at night. Headlights of oncoming cars and streetlights on the road can make it especially difficult to see clearly and drive safely.

Causes of Night Blindness

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 the eye. The cornea also becomes 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: This is the natural decline in vision that comes with age. It makes focusing and adjusting to light changes more difficult, and it can make driving at night or in the rain more challenging.
  • Glaucoma: A buildup of pressure in the eye that affects peripheral vision. Without good peripheral vision, it can be difficult to see what is going on around you while driving, particularly at night.
  • Cataracts: Clouding of the lens of the eye. Night vision problems are often one of the first signs of cataracts.
  • Retinitis pigmentosa: An uncommon genetic disorder in which dark pigment collects in the retina, creating tunnel vision. This condition typically affects people younger than 30. Worsening night vision is one of its earliest symptoms.
  • Vitamin A deficiency: Although it's uncommon, your night vision could be affected if you don't get enough vitamin A in your diet. Vitamin A deficiency typically affects people with gastrointestinal problems caused by conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis or pancreatic insufficiency.
  • Zinc deficiency: Consider zinc to be a partner to vitamin A. Zinc helps the body absorb vitamin A, so without zinc, vitamin A is not as effective.
  • Diabetes: High blood sugar due to diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves in the eyes, leading to diabetic retinopathy. Early signs of diabetic retinopathy include difficulty seeing at night and difficulty adjusting to indoor lighting after being in the bright light outside.
  • Sun exposure: Spending long periods of time outdoors without proper eye protection 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.

Treating the underlying cause of night blindness can help improve the condition. If cataracts are the cause of your night vision problems, cataract surgery should help improve your overall vision, including night time vision. If diabetic retinopathy is the cause of your night blindness, controlling blood sugars through medicine and diet can help prevent vision loss.

Because night vision problems are often the sign of another eye condition or health concern, be sure to let your eye doctor know if you experience any difficulty seeing at night or in dimly lit spaces. Diagnosing many eye conditions in the early stages may save your vision.

If you are experiencing problems seeing at night, contact the Dallas eye care specialists at Key-Whitman for a comprehensive eye exam.

Categories: Eye Health
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