By Devon Andre/ Eye Health
Night blindness (nyctalopia) is impaired vision when the lights are dim or when it is dark. The condition is often caused by poor function of specific vision cells. Normally, our eyes quickly adjust to changes in the lighting, allowing us to still see. When this ability to adjust is impaired, it is known as night blindness.
Night blindness can be a result of various underlying conditions such as the degeneration of the rods (cells responsible for vision in dim light) in the retina, a vitamin A deficiency, or an inherited deficiency in visual purple (the pigment of the rods).
Night blindness can be scary and can even limit your abilities such as driving at night. Below you will find natural and medical ways you can try to improve your night blindness.
Natural treatment to improve night blindness
- Wear red-tinted glasses. This is a common trick that aviators use when they don’t have time to sit in perfect darkness and adjust before night flying. Wearing red-tinted glasses before you go out into low light will help train your eye to focus better.
If you are looking at a map with a flashlight, cover the flashlight with a red-glazed paper. The red light will make the map appear sharper. And if you’re buying a new car, look for a dashboard with red illuminated buttons, rather than blue, green, or white.
- Avoid looking directly at the light source. When you look directly at the light source, your pupils are forced to contract. This increases the amount of time it takes for your vision to acclimatize to the low light. If you can’t avoid looking at the light source, cover or close one eye until it passes.
Looking directly at light sources is a common concern while driving at night. If you are faced with oncoming high beams, protecting one eye will prevent you from getting flash blindness in both eyes (like a deer in headlights). Another trick while driving at night is to take your eyes off the oncoming high beams and look at the white line on your side of the road to maintain a safe course.
- Let your eyes adjust to the darkness naturally. The best way to see in the dark is to let your eyes slowly acclimatize to low light. You can do this by sitting in perfect darkness 20 to 30 minutes before going out into the night. Or you can wear a sleep mask or just cover your eyes. This simple trick helps your eyes easily adjust to the darkness. Special Forces use the technique of squeezing their eyes shut tightly for 10 seconds once they are in the dark.
- Keep your eyes moving. Try not to stare at one object as it will cause your eyes to adapt to whatever light source that is available at the point of your focus. Dance your eyes around, scan the area, and you would be able to see better in dark. Keep blinking, too, to protect your rods from desensitizing.
- Give yourself a gentle eye massage. Just close your eyes tightly and apply slight pressure on both your eyes with your palms (use the fleshy part of your palm below your thumb). After about five or 10 seconds, instead of seeing black, your vision will turn white momentarily. When the white goes away and the black comes back, open your eyes, and your vision will be significantly better in the dark. While the above tricks can help improve night vision, they will work even better if you supplement your diet with vision-boosting nutrients.
- Eat fresh vegetables. The trick here is to consume the so-called rainbow diet with plenty of organic produce. Colorful fruits and vegetables contain carotenoids that destroy free radicals compromising the night vision. Eat a leafy green salad each day. And yes, have a lot of carrots and tomatoes. If you don’t like eating vegetables, make smoothies and drink in all those nutrients.
- Exercise your eyes. Do as many eye exercises as possible. There is one simple yoga technique called Drishti Sanchalan. A literal translation is marching of the eyes. It involves a left, right, left, right movement of the eye followed by an up, down, up, down movement.
Medical treatments for night blindness
Night blindness can be caused by a vitamin A deficiency, nearsightedness, or cataracts. The type of treatment you require depends on the cause of your night blindness. If nearsightedness is the cause of your night blindness, your eye doctor will prescribe corrective lenses to improve your vision.
If cataract is the cause, you will have to undergo the surgery to remove it. After surgery, your doctor will advise that you avoid strenuous activity and even give up driving for some time. Once they give you clearance, you should be able to return back to your regular life and see an improvement in your night vision.
If a vitamin A deficiency is the cause of night blindness, you will need to include foods that are high in this vitamin into your diet. These include cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, butternut squash, mango, spinach, collard green, milk, and eggs.
Lastly, for some patients, night blindness is a result of a genetic defect, which in many cases is not treatable. If you have a genetic defect such as retinitis pigmentosa (progressive degeneration of the rods), unfortunately, surgery or other medical interventions cannot improve this condition. It is advised that you avoid driving or performing other activities at night.
In order to best treat your night blindness, speak to your doctor about available treatment options.