Night Blindness (Nyctalopia)

Overview

What is night blindness?

Night blindness (nyctalopia) is your inability to see well at night or in poor light such as in a restaurant or movie theater. It is often associated with an inability to quickly adapt from a well-illuminated to a poorly illuminated environment. It is not a disease in itself, but rather a symptom of an underlying eye problem, usually a retina problem. It is common for people who are myopic to have some difficulties with night vision, but this is not due to retinal disease, but rather optical issues.

What happens to the eye in low or no light?

Your eyes are constantly adjusting to light. When you’re in low or no light, your pupils (that black circle in the center of your eyes) will get bigger (dilate) so that more light will enter your eye. That light is then received by the retina – tissue in the back of your eye that houses all of the rod and cone cells. Cone cells help you see color. Rod cells help you see in the dark. When those rods are not working well because of a disease, injury, or condition, you can’t see as well or at all in the dark.

Possible Causes

What are the most common causes of night blindness?

Night blindness has many possible causes, including:

  • Myopia (nearsightedness).
  • Glaucoma medications that work by constricting the pupil.
  • Cataracts.
  • Retinitis pigmentosa.
  • Vitamin A deficiency, especially in individuals who have undergone intestinal bypass surgery.
  • Diabetes.

To determine what is causing your night blindness, an eye specialist will perform a thorough eye exam and may order any of a number of specialized images, tests or exams.

Care and Treatment

How is night blindness treated?

Treatment for your night blindness depends on the cause. Treatment may be as simple as getting yourself a new eyeglass prescription or switching glaucoma medications, or it may require surgery if the night blindness is caused by cataracts.

If you have a retinal disease, the treatment will depend on the type of the disease and will require additional investigation by a retina specialist.

What can I do to treat night blindness at home?

Night blindness cannot be treated at home. Medical advice is necessary so that the appropriate treatment, if any, is given.

How can night blindness be prevented?

You can’t prevent genetic predispositions, but you can control your lifestyle. Try the following to possibly prevent night blindness:

Eat foods that have Vitamin A. Some suggestions include:

  • Carrots.
  • Cantaloupes.
  • Butternut squash.
  • Spinach.
  • Milk.
  • Eggs.

Get regular eye exams. See an eye specialist consistently so that they can figure out early if you have problems with your eyes.

Wear sunglasses. Sunglasses protect your eyes from the sun. UV rays increase your risk of cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma. Make sure that your sunglasses do the following:

  • Block out at least 99% of UVA and UVB rays.
  • Protect your eyes from every angle.
  • Filter 75% to 90% of visible blue light.

Exercise. Exercise may reduce your risk of eye conditions. It may lower eye pressure and blood glucose levels.

When to Call the Doctor

When should night blindness be treated by a healthcare provider?

If you struggle to see while you’re driving at night – or can’t see at all, or if you’re sitting in a barely lit restaurant and you can hardly see, you might have night blindness. See your healthcare provider right away because night blindness can be a symptom of a serious disease.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/01/2020.

References

  • American Optometric Association. Common Types of Low Vision. (http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/low-vision/common-types-of-low-vision?sso=y) Accessed 11/30/2020.
  • Henderer JD, Rapuano CJ. Chapter 64. Ocular Pharmacology. In: Brunton LL, Chabner BA, Knollmann BC. eds. Goodman & Gilman's The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, 12e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2011. Accessed 11/30/2020.
  • Optometrists Network. Night Blindness: Treatments and Prevention. (https://www.optometrists.org/general-practice-optometry/what-causes-night-blindness/night-blindness-treatments-and-prevention/) Accessed 11/30/2020.
  • Optometrists Network. What Causes Night Blindness? (https://www.optometrists.org/general-practice-optometry/what-causes-night-blindness/night-blindness-treatments-and-prevention/) Accessed 11/30/2020.
  • American Academy of Ophthalmology. Shedding Light on Night Blindness. (https://www.aao.org/eye-health/news/shedding-light-on-night-blindness) Accessed 11/30/2020.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy