Night blindness

Most people's eyes need time to adapt to seeing in the dark. But for people with night blindness, darkness at night and other low lighting conditions can make seeing clearly very difficult.

The causes of night blindness include underlying conditions such as glaucoma and cataracts. People with near-sightedness can also find it harder to see in the dark. Wearing the right prescription glasses or contact lenses can help, but any underlying cause should be treated if possible.

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What is night blindness?

Night blindness, also known as nyctalopia, affects your ability to see well at night or in low light. People with night blindness may struggle to adapt from well-illuminated to poorly illuminated environments. Night blindness isn't a separate condition but a symptom of a range of underlying eye conditions. It's common for people with near-sightedness to have some difficulties with night vision.

What causes night blindness?

Night blindness can have several different causes, including underlying conditions such as:

  • Glaucoma - affects your vision day and night. In addition, some medications used to treat the condition affect how your pupils work, limiting their ability to widen at night as they normally would.
  • Cataracts - cause cloudiness in the eye's natural lens which can cause problems with vision in low lighting and halos around bright lights at night.
  • Myopia - being severely short-sighted can contribute to night blindness as it can prevent the retina from focusing light properly.
  • Retinitis pigmentosa - causes retinal cells to break down, so it can negatively impact night vision.

What are the symptoms of night blindness?

Night blindness has one main symptom - difficulty seeing in the dark or low-light conditions. Depending on your underlying condition, you may experience vision problems such as:

  • Difficulty adjusting from bright to dark environments
  • Blurry vision when driving at night
  • Excessive squinting in the dark
  • Trouble seeing in dim or low lighting
  • Problems seeing people walking after dark
  • Difficulty adjusting to sudden bright light such as oncoming headlights
  • Reduced peripheral vision

Is there a cure for night blindness?

Any underlying cause of night blindness will need treatment if possible.

If your night blindness is related to a vitamin A deficiency, then adding more dairy products, leafy green vegetables, and oily fish to your regular diet can help, as can vitamin supplements. However, if the condition is caused by an eye disease, such as cataracts or glaucoma, you may need treatment such as surgery to correct the problem.

Glasses or contact lenses can help if night blindness is due to short-sightedness. Glasses with an anti-glare coating can help your eyes when driving in the dark or low light too.

If retinitis pigmentosa is causing your night blindness, you may not be able to cure it as there is no known treatment. However, there is support available to help you manage your condition.

When to get medical advice

It's normal for your eyes to need a little time to adapt to seeing in the dark. However, if you notice serious issues, such as difficulties driving at night, speak to your optician or eye doctor.

During an eye exam, they will be able to determine what's behind your night blindness. Once they know what's causing the problem, they can talk you through your options.

Living with night blindness

Night blindness can be frustrating to live with, especially if it affects your ability to drive at night. For some people, symptoms will improve with treatment for the underlying cause of their night blindness.

Frequently asked questions

Medically reviewed by: The Royal College of Ophthalmologists on 18/10/2022

Edited by: Nick Astbury FRCS FRCOphth FRCP
Clinical Associate Professor

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists champions excellence in the practice of ophthalmology and is the only professional membership body for medically qualified ophthalmologists. The RCOphth is unable to offer direct advice to patients. If you’re concerned about the health of your eyes, you should seek medical advice from your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist.

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