11 Reasons Why You May Have Trouble Seeing at Night

Halos around headlights from oncoming traffic on a foggy evening.

There’s nothing scarier than driving at night and struggling to see. If driving home under the dim streetlights is becoming a challenge, or daylight’s transition into a darker setting takes longer for your eyes to adjust to, you may be experiencing trouble seeing at night. This nocturnal visual impairment could be a sign that shouldn’t be overlooked, particularly if it has suddenly become part of your reality.

Poor night vision can be an early symptom of an eye disease, a rare genetic disorder, or even a vitamin deficiency. It could also be something as simple as a minor vision error that you can rectify with updated glasses or contact lenses. Keep reading to explore potential causes for this issue, including the link between difficulty driving at night and conditions like age-related macular degeneration. Don’t let the night blur your vision!

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Unraveling the Mystery: What Causes Me to Have Trouble Seeing at Night?

Night blindness, also known as nyctalopia or night myopia, is a condition where individuals struggle to see clearly in low-light conditions or during nighttime. This difficulty often becomes evident when transitioning from a well-lit environment to a dimly lit one, such as moving from the bright outdoors into a darker room. A standard indicator of this problem is trouble discerning objects while driving at night, especially amidst the glare of streetlights or oncoming traffic headlights.

This vision impairment occurs due to damage to the rod cells located on the periphery of the eye’s retina. These cells play a crucial role in detecting movement and facilitating night vision. When these cells are compromised, it significantly hampers a person’s ability to see at night. But what triggers this damage leading to trouble seeing at night?

1. Cataracts

Cataracts, a condition characterized by clouding the eye’s natural lens, can lead to vision impairment. This issue often exacerbates glare, halos, and light distortion, making nighttime activities, especially driving, quite challenging. You might discover that difficulty seeing or navigating roads at night is your initial symptom of cataracts.

The growth of cataracts happens when proteins in the eye’s lens start deteriorating. This process typically sets in during your 40s, with noticeable symptoms manifesting in your 60s. However, any trauma inflicted on your eyes can trigger the early formation of cataracts, even as early as your 20s.

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2. Diabetes

High blood sugar levels, a common symptom of diabetes, can lead to significant eye damage, resulting in a condition known as diabetic retinopathy. This ailment is characterized by harm to the blood vessels in the retina, the part of the eye responsible for creating clear images.

Fluctuating blood sugar levels can also influence the amount of oxygen reaching your eyes, impacting your overall visual acuity. This could manifest as difficulty seeing at night or in low-light conditions. Over time, consistently high blood sugar can cause the lens of the eye to swell, altering your vision. Correcting this type of blurred vision requires managing your blood sugar levels effectively.

Diabetics often struggle with night vision and may experience symptoms like consistently red eyes, problems with peripheral vision, and pressure in the eyes. In severe cases, diabetes can also lead to other eye problems like cataracts and glaucoma. Hence, managing diabetes is crucial to slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy and other related eye conditions, thereby improving night vision.

A man rubbing his eyes under his glasses while trying to write in a dimly lit room.3. Dry Eye

When the number of tears you have isn’t enough to keep your eye lubricated, you may suffer from dry eye. Dry eye makes it more difficult to see at night because it causes light to scatter abnormally instead of focusing it for clear vision. Because your pupil is usually more open at night, more scattered light enters your pupil, making vision difficult.

4. Eye Surgery

If you have ever had refractive surgery for vision correction, reduced night vision may present as either a temporary or permanent side effect. These types of surgery change the cornea’s shape, affecting how light is bent, and can cause more glares or halos around lights at night.

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5. Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that causes damage to the optic nerve and retina from increased pressure. It eventually leads to vision loss, often attacking peripheral vision first. If you suffer from glaucoma, you might discover that both your daytime and nighttime vision are affected as the retina stops working.

6. Injury

Injuries to the eye or the brain can result in diminished night vision. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can lead to a range of vision problems, including night blindness, as it can impede the brain’s ability to process visual information. Certain eye injuries, particularly damage to the retina, which detects light and sends signals to the brain, can also trigger conditions like retinitis pigmentosa, which often causes loss of night vision.

Moreover, specific brain injuries can cause a condition called hemianopia, a vision impairment that can affect one’s ability to see at night. Other conditions, such as glaucoma, an eye disease damaging the optic nerve, can also lead to decreased night vision. It’s crucial to monitor for potential vision problems following a brain injury and seek medical attention if any irregularities are detected.

7. Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is an eye disease that changes the retina, causing distortion and blind spots in both day and night vision. It is a progressive eye disease and a leading cause of blindness. Some of the earliest signs of macular degeneration are visual impairment when going from daylight to dim lighting situations. There is a specialized screening called Maculogix AdaptDx that can provide information to detect macular damage earlier, and having regular eye exams can keep your doctor aware of any changes that might be going on in your eyes.

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8. Outdated Vision Prescription

Having a routine comprehensive eye exam is crucial to ensuring you can see well at night. If you experience better daytime vision but poor vision at night, it might be because of the size of your pupils. During the day, your pupils are smaller and provide greater depth of field, which helps compensate for any vision problems. The pupils get much larger at night, so the blur you don’t notice during the day becomes amplified. Your doctor may suggest a slight prescription for you to wear at night to decrease the blurred vision you experience.

Also, if you already wear corrective lenses but have badly scratched glasses or poor lens coatings, it can increase your trouble seeing at night. You can now get special lens coatings on your glasses to help with night vision and foggy conditions.

9. Poor Diet

A poor diet, particularly one lacking in Vitamin A, can negatively affect night vision. This is because Vitamin A is essential for the production of rhodopsin, a pigment in the retina that aids in seeing in dim light. Vitamin A-rich foods include leafy greens like kale, spinach, and broccoli, eggs, butter, and orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and mangos.

If you’re struggling with night vision, it’s vital to consult with a healthcare professional. They may suggest dietary changes or prescribe supplements if they identify a significant Vitamin A deficiency. However, it’s crucial to remember that excessive Vitamin A intake can be harmful, so any supplementation should be under a doctor’s guidance.

A side-by-side comparison of normal vision which is clear, and vision with RP, which is cloudy and dark.

10. Retinitis Pigmentosa

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a genetic condition where the pigmented cells in the retina break down, which causes a loss of peripheral vision and trouble seeing at night. People with RP slowly lose their vision over time but usually don’t become totally blind. RP can affect your night, peripheral, central, and color vision.

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11. Too Much Screen Time

Spending too much time staring at a screen can lead to dry eye, which makes vision more difficult at night, as we mentioned before. It’s best to practice the 20-20-20 rule, where you take a break from screens every 20 minutes and stare at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This practice helps keep your eyes from straining, which can help you see better at night.

What Should I Do if I Have Trouble Seeing at Night?

If you have trouble seeing at night, please do not hesitate to contact us for an eye exam. Since some causes are treatable and completely benign, while others are more serious, you need an eye doctor to help determine the cause. Treatments range from getting a special pair of glasses or contact lenses to wear at night and cataract surgery to medication. It’s also advised that you wear sunglasses during the day to help ease the transition from the outdoors to the indoors. Don’t wait any longer if you have trouble seeing at night. Contact our friendly staff today for an eye exam!

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