The inability to see properly at night or in lowlight conditions affects everyone to some extent. This can be particularly noticeable while driving in the winter season with short days and long evening hours. Poor weather conditions as well as glare and light scatter off oncoming car headlights can add to the problem and make night driving dangerous.
Signs and Symptoms of Night Driving Problems
An inability to see road signs at night as well as glare and halos off oncoming car lights are the most common symptoms.
What Causes Night Driving Problems?
Both night and day vision are a function of the thin tissue lining the inside of the eye called the retina. It is the retina which absorbs light (similar to film in a camera) and turns it into electrical impulses sent to the brain to put the picture together. The retina has about 2 million sensory cells called rods and cones. Rods perceive black-and-white and are used for night vision and peripheral vision. Cone cells perceive colors, are responsible for central, daytime vision and have a higher degree of visual acuity as compared to rod cell night vision. Unfortunately this is an inherent fact of human visual anatomy making night acuity much less effective than day acuity.
The aging process also plays a part in decreased night vision. Retinal sensitivity decreases with age and Cataracts reduce night vision as our eyes age. Also eye diseases such as Glaucoma, Macular Degeneration, and Retinitis Pigmentosa can cause drastic changes in night vision and should be evaluated immediately.
How are Night Driving Problems Diagnosed?
A comprehensive eye examination is the best way to determine if a glasses need or a disease process is causing the decrease in night vision. Your optometrist will perform a refraction using several combinations of lenses to determine maximal night vision acuity.
How are Night Driving Problems Treated?
Although our anatomy limits our night vision, some night vision problems can be made worse by nearsightedness or astigmatism that can be easily corrected with glasses. These glasses may also be treated with anti-glare coating which will reduce glare off your windshield and oncoming car lights.
Another simple but effective suggestion to help night driving is to check the condition of your car’s windshield. Excessively scratched, pitted, or dirty windshields can add to night driving difficulties. Windshield treatments such as RainEx (sold at automotive stores) can also help keep your windshield clearer at night especially in rain or snow.
Although there are ways to help reduce night vision problems, it is impractical to expect to see a road sign from the same distance at night as during the day due to underlying anatomy limiting how well we see at night. We must all remember that for the safety of ourselves and others, nighttime speeds need to be reduced and extra precautions taken.
What Steps Should I Take If I Think I'm Having Problems Driving at Night?
If you feel that you are having problems with night driving or that your vision is changing, we recommend that you see Dr. Reinders as soon as possible for a complete eye examination. Glasses can often be helpful for night driving but we also must eliminate the possibility of eye diseases causing night vision issues. Dr. Reinders has over 22 years of experience in treating night vision problems and related issues. The sooner you can check your eyes, the better. All doctors agree that waiting and hoping it will get better is not a prescription for success.