Seeing clearly is necessary for safe driving. When part of your eye has an irregular curvature (astigmatism), driving at night can be difficult. Combine that condition with the blinding glare of continuous headlights and… well, it can lead to jittery miles behind the wheel.
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Astigmatism is common, affecting around 30% of people. Ophthalmologist Nicole Bajic, MD, explains how astigmatism affects night driving and what you can do to see better after dark.
How do you know if you have astigmatism?
Most people learn they have astigmatism when they see an eye doctor and receive a vision prescription. The condition occurs when part of your eye – usually the cornea – is oblong like a soccer ball instead of round, the ideal shape.
You can have some level of astigmatism even if you have perfect 20/20 vision, says Dr. Bajic. Symptoms of astigmatism include:
- Blurry vision.
- Tired eyes.
- Poor night vision.
The best way to find out if you have astigmatism is to have an eye exam. “Anyone over 40 should see an eye doctor every year,” says Dr. Bajic. “Changes in your eyes occur with age and distort your vision.”
Astigmatism can also get worse with age. Aging also means you’re more likely to develop common vision problems like cataracts – when the clear lens inside your eye becomes cloudy, contributing to nighttime driving problems.
Does astigmatism make it difficult to drive at night?
The oblong shape of astigmatic eyes distorts light, making it difficult to see when driving at night.
“It’s quite common to see halos around headlights while driving at night,” says Dr. Bajic. “But if you have significant astigmatism, the halos look more like comets with lines of light radiating out from the center.”
In addition to astigmatism, some people have nocturnal myopia, where their pupils naturally widen or dilate more at night, says Dr. Bajic. This allows more light to enter your eyes.
With nocturnal myopia, your vision automatically deteriorates after dark, especially if you have a prescription and your glasses or contacts aren’t up to date. Nighttime myopia also tends to occur in people with lighter eyes.
The Bottom Line: “We find all those bright LED headlights obnoxious,” says Dr. Bajic. “But if you have significant astigmatism or cataracts, they’re really bothersome.”
Tips for night driving with astigmatism
Driving at night with astigmatism can be difficult. But you can lessen the blurring effects of the eye condition by taking these steps:
1. Check your vision prescription
People sometimes wear contact lenses that do not completely treat their astigmatism. To correct the condition, you need toric contact lenses. They are more expensive than regular contacts. But if you’re having night vision problems, correcting astigmatism is essential.
Glasses are a good alternative to contacts because they’re easier to customize for astigmatism, says Dr. Bajic. You can use your glasses for night driving instead of investing in toric contacts.
Either way, the first step to better vision is to make sure your prescription is up to date.
2. Remove cataracts
Cataracts develop gradually and usually begin to affect your vision around age 60. When you have both cataracts and astigmatism, it doubles your difficulty driving at night.
Cataract surgery removes cloudy lenses and replaces them with clear, artificial lenses. This procedure improves your overall vision, including at night. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have cataract symptoms such as:
- Blurry vision.
- Sensitivity to light.
- Poor night vision.
3. Try anti-glare night driving glasses
You can buy over-the-counter goggles specifically for night driving. To reduce glare, these inexpensive glasses feature yellow lenses to filter out vision-clouding blue light. Some may also have an anti-reflective coating.
However, they do not correct your vision and there is no evidence that they work.
“We don’t have a lot of research on their effectiveness,” notes Dr. Bajic. “But many of my patients who have tried them have found them helpful. More importantly, wearing night driving glasses does no harm. So it’s fine to use them if you feel it helps you be safer on the road.
4. Consider Lens Implants
Laser vision correction surgery can improve both nearsightedness and farsightedness, but it worsens night vision in some people. The surgical alternative for people with astigmatism is toric lens implants, which correct astigmatism.
You can have a lens implantation procedure at the same time as cataract surgery. During cataract surgery, your healthcare provider replaces your natural, cloudy lens with an artificial lens. Different artificial lenses are available to help correct vision, including toric lenses for astigmatism.
During cataract removal, your healthcare provider may replace your natural lens with a toric lens to correct astigmatism. This can help eliminate two main causes of poor night vision simultaneously.
5. Stay in familiar areas
If you’re not comfortable driving at night, a simple solution is to drive only during the day. Or stay in familiar places if you have to go out at night. It’s not worth risking your safety or the safety of others to drive when you can’t see clearly.
Can you drive with astigmatism?
Tightening the steering wheel and squinting at the street is not a safe way to drive. “If your vision is affecting your daily activities like driving at night, has changed, or is becoming bothersome, get it checked out,” Dr. Bajic says.
Feeling confident on the streets after dark can be as simple as putting on a new pair of glasses.