Having difficulty seeing at night could be because of more than just aging.
Not seeing as well as you used to (especially at night) is often joked about as an unavoidable consequence of getting older, but the truth is it’s no laughing matter. There are certainly age-related mechanisms at play that can impede our ability to see when it’s dark outside, but sometimes, there is an underlying eye disease that’s to blame. This is why regular eye exams are crucial as we get older, especially for those of us who continue to drive well into our senior years.
OUR AGING EYES: A CLOSER LOOK
- Pupils shrink and lose their capacity to dilate, which reduces the amount of light the eye can absorb in darkened settings (like driving at night).
- The cornea and lens lose clarity, which causes light to scatter when it enters the eye. This is what results in glare.
- Other age-related changes to the structure of the eye reduce “contrast sensitivity,” or the ability to discern subtle differences in brightness. This makes it more difficult to see objects (other cars, pedestrians, deer) and other hazards on the roads after dark.
- Higher-order aberrations (or HOAs) are imperfections in the anatomy of the eye that can’t be remedied with eyeglasses or contacts. Such imperfections worsen over time (with age) and can impede vision, especially after dark.
Changes related to aging can overlap with the symptoms of many common eye-related ailments. But that can be good news, as many of them—including cataracts, nearsightedness, corneal disease, even side effects from medications and vitamin deficiency—are treatable conditions.
SYMPTOMS OF SIGHT-THREATENING EYE DISEASES
- Cloudy or blurry vision
- Faded colors
- Headlights, lamps or sunlight that appear too bright
- Halos around lights
- Poor night vision
- Double vision or multiple images in one eye
- Frequent changes in your eyeglasses or contact lens prescription
- Severe vision loss, even with no initial symptoms
- Blurred vision
- Specks of retinal blood, or spots, affecting your vision
- No symptoms initially
- Gradual decrease of peripheral vision
- Eventual loss of peripheral vision and blindness
DRY MACULAR DEGENERATION
- Blurred vision, which is a common early sign
- Inability to see details clearly at a short distance as disease progresses
- Small, growing blind spot in central vision
WET MACULAR DEGENERATION
- Straight lines appear crooked
- Loss of central vision
“A regular annual eye exam is very important for all adults, whether or not they wear eyeglasses, because many potentially blinding diseases like cataracts, diabetes, glaucoma and macular degeneration have better outcomes if diagnosed and treated early. For adults who may be having difficulty driving at night, it is helpful to see a board-certified ophthalmologist who can evaluate vision and eye health.”
—Mark Goldfarb, M.D., medical director, Advanced Eye Care, River Edge