Night Blindness: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

The eyes are considered one of the most important parts of the human body. They allow for vision, which people rely on every day. 

Many vision problems have been noted among the general population. While blindness is generally considered the most feared condition, other problems can also cause a significant disruption in a person’s life. 

Night blindness is an unpleasant problem. It reduces vision in dark environments. This can make night driving dangerous.

We look at the potential causes of night blindness and consider the symptoms. This article also focuses on current treatment options that may help to improve vision in a dark environment. 

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What Is Night Blindness?

Night blindness is a more common term that is used to refer to nyctalopia. The condition is just as the name suggestions – vision problems in the dark. It should be noted that there is a common misconception related to night blindness.

Due to the term “blindness,” some people think that it refers to a complete loss of vision in the dark. This is not how night blindness works. Instead, nyctalopia causes poor vision at night. The same applies to situations where the patient finds themselves in a low-light environment. 

It should be noted that some people may experience a more significant reduction in vision. In such a case, abilities like driving may be severely affected. This may put the person in danger if they try to drive a car at night. 

The condition will mostly affect the patient is in a dark environment. Some patients may have a condition that affects their day time vision too. 

Night blindness does not affect all patients in the same way. There are cases where the condition is treatable. In such a case, the nyctalopia may be reversible. There are, however, scenarios where the blindness cannot be reversed. It generally depends on the cause behind the condition. 

There are several eye disorders associated with night blindness. An underlying condition should be considered when the patient presents with such symptoms. Visual impairment can sometimes lead to serious complications. 

Symptoms

Patients should realize the symptoms that may signal night blindness. This is important because the condition is sometimes treatable. When detected at an early stage, there is a greater chance of recovering night vision. 

There is generally only a single symptom associated with nyctalopia. This is difficulty seeing in a dark environment. Most people will find that their vision is only weakened or blurry in the dark. There are more serious cases. 

Most people with night blindness find that the symptoms are worse when transitioning from light to dark. This may be when switching off a light at night, for example. Some people also experience vision problems when they enter a dimmed area – this can happen during the day. 

The causes behind night blindness can sometimes cause additional symptoms to develop. Thus, patients should take note of any symptoms that are related to their vision. 

What Causes Night Blindness?

There are only a few reasons why a patient may experience night blindness. This generally makes it a little easier for a diagnosis to be made. An optometrist will usually look for a cause behind the night blindness. This allows them to prescribe a more targeted treatment plan for the patient. 

We take a look at some of the most common reasons for night blindness to develop. This gives a person a better idea of why they may have difficulty seeing in the dark. By recognizing the risk factors, a person also knows how likely they may be to develop the condition. 

Cataracts

Cataracts are common eye-related problems. According to the National Eye Institute reports that up to 70% of individuals will have cataracts by the age of 80. At least half of the population experience cataracts by the age of 75. The risk for this condition increases once a person turns 40. 

A cataract causes a clouding in the patient’s lens. This, in turn, affects the individual’s vision. Aging is the number one reason for cataracts to develop. In some cases, cataracts may cause night blindness. This is not the case with every patient that has cataracts. 

Vitamin A Deficiency

Various nutrients contribute to eye health. One of the most important vitamins would be vitamin A. There are multiple functions in the body that depend on vitamin A. We need to get vitamin A from various food sources. This is a fat-soluble type of vitamin. 

Vitamin A deficiency is linked to many problems in the body. One of the very first symptoms that people tend to experience is night blindness. This is why testing for vitamin A is a common procedure if a patient complains about poor night vision. 

Genetic Conditions

There are also a few generic conditions that have been linked to a higher risk of night blindness. The most common genetic condition is known as Usher syndrome. This is a genetic disease that affects the eyes. It can cause more than just night blindness. The condition can lead to poor daytime vision as well. Usher syndrome is also known to affect a patient’s hearing. 

Other Causes

There are a few other reasons for night blindness to develop. Nearsighted people may have an increased risk of developing night blindness. Retinitis pigmentosa has also been linked to symptoms associated with nyctalopia.

This is a condition that causes dark pigments to collect in the patient’s retina. As the dark pigments start to accumulate, it creates what is often referred to as “tunnel vision.” Congenital stationary night blindness can also occur. 

What Are The Treatment Options For Night Blindness? 

Treatment differs from patient to patient. There are cases where no treatment will be available. Some patients may have a treatable form of night blindness. An eye doctor will first conduct a few tests. This ensures they can determine the cause – and then target the underlying factors leading to the night blindness symptoms. 

A doctor may request blood tests. This helps to see if the patient has a low level of vitamin A in their body. It also allows the doctor to see if the patient’s glucose levels may be unstable. This helps with the detection of diabetic retinopathy, which may also lead to night vision problems in some patients.

Vision impairment is a type of vision problem that is common in people with diabetes. 

A doctor may provide treatment for the patient if the cause is related to these conditions:

  • Vitamin A deficiency

  • Cataracts

  • Nearsightedness

A vitamin A supplement is provided to a patient with a deficiency in this nutrient. The doctor may start the patient off with a higher dose. The dose may be gradually reduced as vitamin A levels become more balanced. 

If the patient has cataracts, surgery may be advised. Surgical procedures for cataract removal are known to be effective. The patient’s lens will be replaced during the surgery. An artificial lens is used. If cataracts are the cause behind night blindness, the patient should see an improvement soon after the surgery was performed. 

A patient with nearsightedness will be provided with corrective lenses. This may include either contact lenses or eyeglasses. 

How Can I Prevent Night Blindness?

Genetic causes behind night blindness cannot be prevented. There are, however, other factors that can be targeted as part of a preventative strategy. This allows the patient to at least reduce their risk of night blindness. 

A balanced diet with healthy choices during each meal would be one of the most effective preventative options. A person needs to ensure they get enough vitamin A. This vitamin is essential for proper vision. As previously noted, a deficiency can lead to poor night vision. 

Many foods contain vitamin A. Cantaloupes, pumpkin, carrots, and sweet potatoes are only a few examples. Milk and eggs are also rich in vitamin A. 

A regular eye exam is also important. This helps the patient identify problems like glaucoma, issues with the optic nerve, and another type of eye condition that may ultimately affect vision in the dark. 

What Is The Prognosis?

The prognosis of night blindness depends on several factors. It is important to consider the cause behind the condition. If it is a genetic cause, then the patient will not have any success with treatments.

In such a case, it is critical to take appropriate precautions. The patient should avoid driving at night. They should also ensure they have lighting readily available if they get up at night. 

For people with certain causes, treatment may help. In these scenarios, the long-term outlook may sometimes be positive. If the patient sees an optometrist early on, there is a bigger chance of helping them recover from the condition. 

There are a few precaution measurements that patients should still take while they receive treatment. Wearing sunglasses during the day may be helpful. This can reduce the risk of poor vision when transitioning from outdoors to a dimmed area during the day. Pregnant women must consider precautions for maternal night blindness too.  

Conclusion

We rely on vision during the day and at night. Night blindness causes poor vision in dark and low-light conditions. This makes driving more difficult at night and puts a person at risk when they are in a low-light environment. There are a few possible causes, including nutritional deficiencies and cataracts.

Genetic factors also seem to play a role in the risk of night blindness. A few treatment options are available. The specific treatment will depend on the cause behind night blindness. 

Sources

  1. GTR Home. Nyctalopia. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/gtr/conditions/C0028077/
  2. Journal of Optometry. (2013) Reversible night blindness – A reminder of the increasing importance of vitamin A deficiency in the developed world. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3880510/
  3. National Eye Institute. Cataract Data and Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/resources-for-health-educators/eye-health-data-and-statistics/cataract-data-and-statistics
  4. PNAS. (1958) Vitamin A Deficiency And Night Blindness. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC528639/
  5. The Journal of Nutrition. (2008) Vitamin A Deficiency and Clinical Disease: An Historical Overview. [online] Available at: https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/138/10/1835/4669996

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