Why Am I Having Trouble Seeing While Driving at Night?

trouble driving at night because of headlight glare

Trouble seeing while driving at night or engaging in other activities is known as night blindness (nyctalopia). It’s not an eye condition but a symptom of an underlying eye condition that needs to be treated, such as retinal issues. Treatments vary based on the underlying cause so it’s important to talk to your Knoxville eye doctor who can diagnose your night vision problems and develop a treatment plan. astigmatism poor night vision

You can experience trouble seeing while driving at night for a number of reasons including cataracts, nearsightedness, astigmatism, and diabetes. The best way to diagnose the cause of your particular night driving problem is with a comprehensive eye exam. There are also questions you can ask yourself to tell if you should schedule an exam.

Why Is It Hard for Me To See at Night While Driving?

There can be a number of problems you experience that make it difficult to drive at night. Glare from oncoming traffic, difficulty transitioning from light to dark vision, and halos around lights can all cause problems. These symptoms can have different causes so it’s important to talk to your ophthalmologist so you can get the treatment that you need.


Your eye works a lot like a film camera. A healthy lens lets light enter the eye and helps to focus it on your retina, creating the images that you see. However, the lens can become clouded as time passes, resulting in blurry vision. This results in a cataract and it can cause trouble seeing while driving at night as well as during other daily activities.

Cataracts are especially common in older adults. This is because the proteins in the lens of the eye deteriorate naturally over time, clumping together as they break down. 

This results in the lenses of your eyes becoming:

  • Thick
  • Cloudy
  • More rigid

Cataracts are a slow process that can take years to notice. While this gives you time to prepare, failure to treat them can have serious repercussions for your vision and quality of life. At Baptist Eye Surgeons, our eye surgeons are trained in all aspects of eye health including cataract diagnosis and treatment.

Click here to read our definitive guide to cataracts!

Nearsightedness and Astigmatism

Nearsightedness can have a major impact on your nighttime vision by making it more difficult to see for longer distances in the dark. This can especially be a problem if you haven’t updated your glasses or contacts prescription in a while.

Also known as myopia, nearsightedness is caused by a refractive error. This occurs when light can’t focus on your retina due to your eye being misshapen. In the case of nearsightedness, this can be caused by:

  • The eyeball is too long from front to back
  • The cornea is too curved
  • A misshapen lens

Astigmatism is when light enters the eye and does not have a common focus. This can result in distortion in your vision, increased glare, and halos.

The end result is objects that are far away appear blurred. Symptoms can be even worse while driving at night due to already less than ideal seeing conditions. 


If you have diabetes then you run a higher risk of having trouble seeing while driving at night compared to other people. The high blood sugar associated with diabetes progressively damages nerves and blood cells in your eyes. 

This can eventually lead to diabetic retinopathy which comes in two types:

  • Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy
  • Proliferative diabetic retinopathy

Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy occurs when the blood vessels in your retina rupture, making vision loss a very real possibility. Proliferative retinopathy is the more severe of the two. It occurs when your body creates new, abnormal blood vessels to replace the damaged ones. Both types can cause trouble seeing while driving at night and during the daytime. 

To learn more about how diabetes can affect your vision, click here!

Retinitis Pigmentosa

Retinitis pigmentosa is a group of genetic eye diseases that cause cells in the retina to break down. This process happens gradually over time, eventually resulting in vision loss. Unlike cataracts which tend to occur later in life, symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa often start in early childhood.

Learn Why You’re Having Trouble Seeing While Driving at Night With a Comprehensive Eye Examhaving Trouble Seeing While Driving at Night

Comprehensive eye exams aren’t like the vision screenings you may remember from school. While they will help you see the whiteboard more clearly, they’re real purpose is to view the inner structures of your eye. This is thanks to the dilating eye drops used during the exam. They give our Knoxville eye doctors a more detailed view of your vision and eye health.

Comprehensive eye exams allow us to catch vision problems long before symptoms begin to appear. This includes issues such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration. They also allow us to catch health issues beyond your vision including hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and autoimmune diseases.

These exams should be prioritized based on age. Those under the age of 40 need them every 5 to 10 years. Patients between the ages of 40 and 54 should get comprehensive eye exams every 2 to 4 years. As you age, you’ll need them more often with patients aged 55 – 64 needing them every 1 to 3 years. Those aged 65 and up should get one every 1 to 2 years.

How Do I Test Myself for Night Blindness?

Night blindness can have different causes so your symptoms may vary. Your eye doctor is the final authority on whether you have night blindness or other vision problems. However, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to tell if you should come in for a comprehensive exam.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), ask yourself if you have trouble:

  • Walking through your home at night, even with night lights
  • Recognizing people’s faces in dimly lit environments
  • Adjusting to dark rooms and other poorly lit environments
  • Adjusting to brightly lit environments when coming in from the dark

If you said yes to any of these questions then you should schedule an appointment with one of our Knoxville ophthalmologists immediately. They will be able to diagnose what’s causing your trouble seeing while driving at night and any other issues you may be having. Even more importantly, they can provide treatment so you can see more clearly whenever it’s dark.

Are you having trouble seeing while driving at night and need a comprehensive eye exam? Contact us today to schedule an appointment!

Trouble seeing while driving at night can occur for a variety of reasons including cataracts, nearsightedness, and diabetes. A comprehensive eye exam is the best way to learn the cause of your particular problem and get the treatment that you need. You can also ask yourself certain questions to determine if you need to come in for a comprehensive eye exam.

Baptist Eye Surgeons is an ophthalmological practice in Knoxville, TN, and Morristown, TN. Give us a call at 865-579-3920 for more information or to schedule an appointment.

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