Poor night vision or night blindness can be a life-limiting symptom. Night blindness can be caused by either an inherited or acquired reason. Symptoms include difficulty driving at night, tripping over objects when walking in the dark, and slow response when light conditions change (such as entering a dark movie theater). Photoreceptor cells in the retina allow you to see in dim lighting. When they malfunction, vision in dark conditions becomes difficult.
The photoreceptors called “rod cells” are mainly responsible for night vision. Rods can detect single photons and transmit that data to rod bipolar cells. This makes dim light information more usable to the brain.
Acquired Causes of Poor Night Vision
Vitamin A Deficiency. Vitamin A is required to make the chemical rhodopsin, crucial to night vision. Dietary deficiency of Vitamin A is uncommon in developed countries. Proper absorption is key. Iron or zinc deficiency, small bowel bypass surgery, and too much alcohol can impair Vitamin A absorption. Inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatic issues, and fibrosis can cause Vitamin A issues. Low fat diets may not have enough vitamin A. Many orange, yellow, and dark leafy green foods are rich in beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. People with thyroid issues may have difficulty in converting beta carotene into Vitamin A as well. Note: Vitamin A deficiencies need early treatment or vision damage can be permanent.
Cataracts. Cloudy spots on the lens obscure vision.
Myopia (nearsightedness). A symptom of uncorrected myopia can result in night blindness.
Medications. If a glaucoma medication side-effect is pupil constriction, night vision can be compromised.
Other diseases and conditions. Cystic fibrosis, cirrhosis of the liver, gastric bypass, celiac disease, obstruction of the bile duct (gallstones), and diabetes can reduce night vision.
Congenital Causes of Poor Night Vision
Genetics. Inherited genetic mutations can cause night blindness.
Retinitis Pigmentosa. Genetic problems result in damage to the retina, impairing night vision, as well as central and peripheral vision. Usher syndrome results in hearing loss and retinitis pigmentosa.
How Night Blindness Is Diagnosed
Contrary to popular belief, night blindness cannot be self-diagnosed. The biggest danger is driving at night. Injuries are likely when walking in insufficient light. Therefore, anyone who is concerned about their night vision should consult an eye doctor.
The eye doctor will run several painless tests to measure pupil adaptation, your ability to see color, and visual acuity. The doctor will also apply dilating drops and examine most of the structures of the eye.
You may need an electroretinogram to measure how your rods and cones react to light. The doctor may order visual field testing if the cause might be glaucoma, another eye disease, or stroke. He or she may also order an OCT (optical coherence tomography) scan which gives a detailed view of the layers of the retina and optic nerve, and provides a baseline to compare in future scans.
You should be having regular eye exams regardless. Ask your eye doctor if you suspect night vision problems.
Poor night vision will not resolve itself. Clean your windshield and glasses in case it is just glare. Consult an eye doctor.
Standard Treatments for Poor Night Vision
The primary treatment for night blindness depends on the cause.
If the cause of night blindness is congenital, regular care from an eye care specialist is crucial. The condition is life-long. Read the rest of this article to see how you can support your night vision naturally. Do whatever is necessary prevent injuries at night and in dark basements, caves, etc. The doctor may tell your state Department of Motor Vehicles to add a “daylight driving only” restriction to your driver’s license, for the safety of yourself and others.
Acquired night blindness treatment depends on the cause.
- Cataracts (moderate to mature) are typically treated thru surgery by replacing them with an artificial lens. If you need to delay surgery for medical reasons for example, see our cataracts page. Early stage cataracts may still impact night vision (particularly due to glare at night), so there are natural approaches that may help with this.
- Myopia can be treated with the right prescription lenses.
- Vitamin A deficiency or malabsorption reacts well to a better diet and supplements. Sometimes the doctor can change a problematic medication.
- Glaucoma patients may do better on a different medication.
- Attempt to better control other conditions or diseases if they are causing night blindness.
In the future, stem cell therapy may provide relief for night blindness.
Poor Night Vision and Supplements
While Vitamin A deficiency is a well-known cause of night blindness, other nutrients may also play a role.
- The antioxidant astaxanthin is the pink color in certain seafood and certain algae. A champion eye nutrient, astaxanthin protects the cells and support eye circulation, and helps protect the eyes against sunlight and blue light exposure from mobile and other electronic devices. Recommended: 6 mg/day.
- The dark purple color of bilberries comes in part from rhodopsin. Rhodopsin nourishes the rods in the retina, which are crucial for night vision. Bilberry supplements improved poor night vision patients’ rate of adapting to darkness.1 180 mg – 240 mg/day.
- Found abundantly in certain vegetables and egg yolks, lutein and zeaxanthin together are a powerful eye protection combination. Important food sources: dark leafy greens, zucchini, peas, brussels sprouts, pumpkin, lettuce, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, carrots, and pistachios. Lutein and zeaxanthin help the eyes by filtering out blue light and protecting healthy eye cells. Although there are 600 carotenoids in nature, the retina uses these two the most. only these two are deposited in high quantities in the retina (macula) of the eye. Lutein: 6 mg – 20 mg/day. Zeaxanthin: 2 mg – 12 mg/day. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found both in the retina and lens of the eyes, and also act to filter out light (UVA/UVB and Blue light), helping to protect our eyes from exposure to sunlight and blue light from mobile and other electronic devices.
- If you are low on vitamin A, check with a nutritionist or doctor about the best supplement plan tailored to your needs.
- Taurine helps rhodopsin regenerate, a crucial process for night vision. The amino acid taurine is produced by the body, and it is abundant in high-protein animal foods such as milk, eggs, seafoods, and meat. Ten times more taurine is in the photoreceptors than any other amino acid. 750 mg – 1000 mg per day.
- Insufficient omega-3 fatty acids are wide-spread. However, these nutrients are important for healthy rod cells. Food sources include certain seafood (salmon, cod liver oil, sardines, herring, mackerel, oysters, anchovies, caviar), walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and soybeans. 2,000 mg – 3,000 mg/day.
Other night-vision-friendly nutrients include zinc, green tea extract, ginkgo biloba, and vitamin B complex.
Poor Night Vision and Diet
People with poor night vision should follow the Vision Diet, a variation on the Mediterranean Diet. Additionally, consume plenty of beta-carotene rich foods, nuts and seeds, and dark berries.
Make fresh, organic, ideally home-made juice. Include fruits, vegetables, and some of: ginger, garlic, parsley, turnips, spinach, blueberries, beets, carrots, watercress, and wheatgrass.
In some cases of night blindness, microcurrent stimulation can help. A microcurrent stimulation machine designed for the eyes can improve retinal circulation and increase energy production in the retinal cells.
Eye exercises can be helpful for many eye conditions.
Protect the eyes from blue light. Wear wraparound 100% UVA/UVB protecting sunglasses when outside, preferably with a polarized coating, and blue light filtering glasses when on the computer or using mobile phones. Amber colored lenses are the best for neutralizing blue light.
If you still have active, functioning rods, Chinese Medicine can be helpful. Consult a doctor of Chinese Medicine, who may use acupuncture and herbs to address night blindness.
- Chu, W.C., Cheung, S.C.M., Lau, R.A.W., Benzie, I.F.F. (2011).Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Chapter 4 Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis. ↩