What Is Night Blindness?

Inability to See Well in the Dark or Dim Light

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Night blindness, also known as nyctalopia, is a vision problem involving the retina. It’s not a disease or condition in and of itself, but a symptom. People with night blindness typically can’t see well in poorly lit conditions or at night. Treatment for night blindness depends entirely on the root cause of night blindness. 

Night blindness occurs when the rods (these allow you to see in the dark) in your retina are malfunctioning. These rods may not work properly or stop working entirely for a number of reasons, including underlying diseases or traumatic injury.

Woman driving a car with dirty windshield at night inside a tunnel. Detail of hand on the wheel in the dark, surrounded by colored and blur lights

Carlos Ciudad Photography / Getty Images

Symptoms of Night Blindness

If you have night blindness, you can’t see well in the dark or in dim light. Nighttime vision abilities can differ depending on the root cause of night blindness. 

Signs that you may have night blindness include:

  • Difficulty driving at night
  • Trouble getting around at night even with dim light sources
  • Inability to tell people apart when there’s not a lot of light
  • Eyes are slow to adjust in low light (and also when returning back to bright light)

Causes

Some conditions that may cause night blindness include:

People who are deficient in vitamin A can also develop night blindness since vitamin A is an essential nutrient related to eye function. People with certain conditions, like cystic fibrosis, are more likely to develop nutrient deficiencies that lead to night blindness. 

While diabetes doesn’t directly cause night blindness, it can cause problems with your vision that ultimately lead to night blindness. 

Laser eye surgery may also cause night blindness. A side effect of LASIK surgery is glare, which can make it tough to see at night. Adding a coating to eyewear can help prevent glare.

If a genetic condition such as retinitis pigmentosa or choroideremia is the root cause of night blindness, it may also cause other vision problems like:

  • Severe nearsightedness
  • Poor visual acuity
  • Nystagmus: A condition where the eyes move involuntarily
  • Strabismus: A condition where the eyes look in different directions

Diagnosis

You might suspect that you have night blindness because you can’t see at night. However, the only way to confirm a diagnosis and determine the underlying cause is to make an appointment with an eye specialist and get an eye exam.

Treatment

Treatment for night blindness involves treating the underlying condition causing poor vision in dark conditions. 

If your night blindness is due to a deficiency, taking a supplement may help. Talk to your doctor before supplementing to avoid taking the wrong amount. 

Some causes of night blindness, like cataracts, require surgery to correct. Surgery can help improve overall vision and correct night vision.

People with glaucoma may develop night blindness as a side effect of certain medications, such as pilocarpine, or from using eye drops that contain preservatives. Switching drugs and using preservative-free eye drops may help relieve symptoms. 

Night blindness that’s caused by vision problems like nearsightedness can sometimes be helped with corrective eyewear. Wearing yellow tinted shades at night can help increase contrast.

Prognosis 

A person’s prognosis depends on what is causing their night blindness. If the night blindness is caused by a degenerative retina disease, it may not be possible to cure the condition. 

In some cases, it’s possible to prevent night blindness from developing. Eating enough vitamin A-rich foods, for instance, can prevent you from having night blindness. But it is important to speak to your doctor before supplementing with vitamin A.

It's also vital to take care of your eyes. This applies whether you’ve been diagnosed with an eye disease or not. Getting your eyes checked regularly ensures problems are spotted before you develop complications like night blindness.

Coping 

Night blindness can severely limit your ability to function in low lit environments or at night. You might find it hard to take part in activities that take place in the evening or at night. People with night blindness cannot drive at night because the condition causes severe visual impairment. In some cases, treatments can help.

However, if your night blindness results from a genetic condition like retinitis pigmentosa, it may be permanent. People with this condition vision rehabilitation and orientation and mobility training in order to meet the challenges of vision loss.

Until you find out how to fix your night blindness, you should not drive at night.

A Word From Verywell 

If you’re struggling to drive or get around in the dark, don’t wait to make an appointment with an eye doctor. The sooner you get an eye exam, the sooner you can find out whether you’re truly experiencing night blindness.

It’s essential to learn the root cause in order to properly treat the underlying condition. Leaving night blindness untreated may lead to complications. If you suspect you are experiencing night blindness, play it safe and stop driving at night. 

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Article Sources
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  1. Cleveland Clinic. Night blindness (nyctalopia). December 1, 2020. 

  2. Boyd K. Shedding light on night blindness. American Academy of Ophthalmology. September 6, 2016. 

  3. Grant R. Night blindness in cystic fibrosis. American Academy of Optometry. 2015.

  4. Optometrists Network. Night blindness: Treatments and prevention. October 21, 2020. 

  5. MedlinePlus. X-linked congenital stationary night blindness. August 18, 2020.