Do you dread the thought of driving at night? Do the headlights of oncoming cars leave you temporarily blinded? Night blindness is more common than you think, especially among older people. We looked at the research…

What is night blindness?

Night blindness, or nyctalopia, is the inability to see well at night or in poor light. It is not a disease, but rather a symptom of an underlying disorder or problem.

Symptoms of night blindness

People suffering from night blindness not only see poorly at night, but are blinded for a few seconds after the bright headlights of an oncoming vehicle have passed. They may also take some time to adjust from brightly lit areas to dim ones.

What causes it?

Night blindness may be caused by:

  • A birth defect.
  • A shortage of vitamin A, which can cause a disorder of the retina.
  • Untreated nearsightedness.
  • Cataracts – cloudy areas in the lens of the eye (more common in elderly people).
  • Certain types of retinal degeneration such as retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye disease that causes vision impairment and often blindness.
  • Glaucoma.
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes, liver disease or pancreatic disease.

Treating night blindness

Once your doctor has established the cause of your night blindness, he or she will prescribe treatment – it may be as simple as a new prescription for spectacles or switching glaucoma drugs, or surgery if you have cataracts.
However, diet, supplements and lifestyle play a big role in maintaining eye health.

11 tips for healthy eyes

1. Monitor your blood pressure

High blood pressure can damage the tiny blood vessels on your retina, obstructing blood flow.

Stabilise your blood sugar
Too much sugar in your blood can affect your ability to focus. Avoid excess sugar, especially fructose.

Fill your plate with vitamin A
It’s true, carrots do help eyesight. Carrots contain vitamin A, also known as retinol, which produces pigments in the retina of the eye, an absence of which can cause night blindness. Other good sources are tuna, dark green leafy veg such as kale and broccoli, and orange fruits and veg – try sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash and mangoes.

Choose healthy animal-based omega-3 fats.
Omega-3 fatty acids like those in krill oil, salmon, sardines, tuna and mackerel support healthy vision and retinal function. Vegetarians can choose good-quality oils, whole grains, nuts and seeds, especially pumpkin seeds.

Avoid trans fats.
Trans fats may contribute to macular degeneration, a major cause of visual impairment in older people. So it’s No to processed and fried foods like margarine, takeaway chicken, chips and burgers, doughnuts, pastries and crackers.

Avoid aspartame.
Research shows that this artificial sweetener in diet colas and other sugarfree products has a toxic effect on health, including vision.

Vitamin D rediscovered.
Recent research shows that we need higher levels of vitamin D than we previously thought to protect us against serious chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, infections, multiple sclerosis and symptoms of ageing, particularly eye ageing. Research from the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London suggests that vitamin D3 may help prevent AMD. Optimise your vitamin D levels with some prudent sun exposure or take a vitamin D3 supplement.1

Take supplements.

Anti-oxidants and nutrients that benefit your eyes include: 

i. Anthocyanins: these water-soluble anti-oxidants support the level of collagen, which is the main component in the eye lens. Find it in blackcurrant and bilberry (Flora Force Bilberry capsules support healthy vision in conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, AMD, glaucoma and cataracts).
ii. The anti-oxidant carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein are present in your retina, probably to act as free radical scavengers (after all, your eyes do work in a light and toxic-rich environment). Keep lutein and zeaxanthin levels up by eating green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, and egg yolks.
iii. Astaxanthin is the ultimate carotenoid for eye health and the prevention
of blindness. Clinical trials show that astaxanthin helps diabetic retinopathy (diabetes-caused damage to the retina, with night blindness being one of the earliest symptoms of the condition), AMD, eyestrain and the ability to see in fine detail.2 It’s found in marine algae and the creatures that eat the algae, such as salmon, shellfish and krill.

  • Stop smoking.
    Smoking increases your risk of cataracts and aggravates uncomfortable dry eyes. And, because it builds up plaque in your bloodstream and weakens arteries, you could suffer both a heart attack and damage your retinas. The good news? After you quit, your risk of eye disease is about the same as for non-smokers.
  • Look away from the screen.
    When we stare at a computer screen, we blink about half as often as we do normally. The result is dry, tired eyes. Every 20 minutes, look into the distance for at least 20 seconds.
  • Always wear sunglasses.
    Regular UV radiation can cause cataracts and cornea damage, leading to night blindness. Whenever you’re outdoors, even on cloudy days, wear sunglasses or contacts that block 99 to 100 percent of UV-A and UV-B rays. Check the label. 

  • [message type=”warning”]NOTE: If you are experiencing problems seeing at night, we highly recommend that you consult your eye specialist to determine the cause. Remember that surgery is always the last resort.
    For more information about sight-related problems such as night blindness, contact Retina South Africa.[/message]

    Acknowledgements & Photo credits

    Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.


    2. Lin-Yang Dong, Jie Jin et al. (2013). Astaxanthin Attenuates the Apoptosis of Retinal Ganglion Cells in db/db Mice by Inhibition of Oxidative Stress. Marine Drugs, 11(3): 960–974.

    Photo credits

    1. Photo courtesy of IgorShubin /