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Eye Doc: Look *Here* While You Drive + 8 More Genius Tips to Improve Night Vision Behind The Wheel

Don't miss the dashboard tweak that makes it easy to see when driving!

Driving always presents risks, but after dark, the chances of an accident increase exponentially. Sure, there are fewer drivers on the road, but the low light makes it harder to see potential hazards, plus the glow of headlights and brake lights can take your focus off what’s most important: the road. And night driving becomes even more challenging with age. The older we get, the more likely we are to experience changes in our eyes’ lenses, pupils and light receptors. To the rescue: We asked ophthalmologists, optometrists and nutrition experts how to improve night vision. Read on for their top tips.

Why night vision worsens with age

How to improve night vision: Cars at night in fog
Construction Photography/Avalon / Contributor / Getty

Poor night vision that occurs alongside aging is a common phenomenon, according to James Kelly, MD, a renowned ophthalmologist and refractive surgeon specialist in New York City. Dr. Kelly says that like the rest of the body, our eyes experience various age-related changes. The changes most likely to affect your night vision while driving include:

  • Reduced pupil size. Specifically, the muscles that control the pupils weaken, making them less responsive to changes in light.
  • Poor lens clarity. The clear lenses of the eye become cloudy with age, resulting in cataracts. This scatters the light entering the eye, reducing night vision.
  • Slower adaptation. Transitioning from bright light to darkness and vice versa becomes harder to adjust to.
  • Retinal changes. The retina is the part of the eye that senses light and sends electrical signals to the brain, which are then converted into images. The number of rod cells in the eye (which assist with night vision) declines significantly after age 35, making it harder to see in the dark.

Likewise, certain medical conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, can damage the structures in our eyes and impact their functioning. “All of these factors contribute to poor night vision,” Dr. Kelly explains, “but regular eye check-ups can help identify and manage these changes effectively.”

How to improve night vision

Poor night vision can make getting behind the wheel stressful, but a few simple changes may be just what you need to get your confidence back! There’s plenty you can do to improve night vision and most of them are free.

1. Clean your windshield

Woman washing a car window
Nancy Brown / Getty

Cleaning your car is an easy way to see better at night. Pay special attention to your windshield. “A clean windshield can significantly improve visibility,” Dr. Kelly says. “Ensure both the inside and outside are free from dirt, smudges and streaks that can cause glare and blur your vision.”

Michelle Andreoli, MD, an ophthalmologist and clinical spokesperson for The American Academy of Ophthalmology, adds that you should check your windshield wipers to ensure they work properly. If they’re worn down or ineffective, “change them as needed,” she says.

You should also clean your headlights. “Dirty or foggy headlights can significantly reduce the amount of light they emit, decreasing your visibility,” Dr. Kelly explains. “Cleaning them ensures maximum light output, improving your ability to see the road.”

Finally, don’t forget your rearview and sideview mirrors. Keeping them clean lets you see what’s going on around and behind you, so you can focus on the road ahead. (Click through for 10 quick and easy car cleaning hacks).

2. Adjust your dashboard lighting

Halos and glare are often triggered by external light sources, like street lamps and oncoming headlights. However, many new cars have LED touchscreens and other glowing features that can be just as irritating.

“The brightness of the dashboard serves as another bothersome source of glare when driving at night,” explains Bradley Dougherty, OD, PhD, associate professor of optometry at The Ohio State University College of Optometry. “This lighting can be adjusted downward in many cars, and that may help with night driving comfort.” Dr. Kelly adds that dimming the lights helps your eyes better adjust to the darkness outside.

3. Keep eye drops in the glove compartment

Young woman putting eye drops at home
eternalcreative / Getty

Dry eyes leave your eyes feeling itchy and irritated, but they can also increase your risk of accidents. A study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology found that drivers with dry eyes had slower response times and were more likely to miss crosswalks and other road obstructions. These risks are even more prominent after dark!

“Dry eye and other ocular surface or corneal diseases can make night driving worse,” explains Luis Rojas, OD, co-founder of DeNovo Eye and a Johnson & Johnson Vision consultant to Luis Rojas, OD, Founder of Innovista Eye and a Johnson & Johnson Vision consultant? “There are so many layers that light must travel through to get to the retina. If any of these layers are compromised or disrupted, it’s harder to see clearly. For example, our tears provide an important refractive layer. Without tears, incoming light simply scatters, creating significant glare like a foggy windshield on a car.”

Artificial tears, either over-the-counter or prescription, help keep this refractive layer lubricated and support your vision. Therefore, keeping eye drops in your glove compartment can provide peace of mind if dry eyes affect your night vision.

4. Take a break

You know that the light produced by street lamps and headlights can cause glare and halos. What you might not know is that excessive exposure to these lights also increases your risk of eye fatigue.

A study published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science confirmed this correlation, noting that participants exposed to nighttime urban light pollution were also more likely to experience eye fatigue. Other studies have linked staring at digital screens, like those found in most modern car dashboards, to eye strain and eye fatigue. So it’s no wonder that many people with poor night vision report similar symptoms.

Driving short distances probably won’t cause problems, but “long hours of driving at night can strain your eyes,” Dr. Kelly says. “Taking regular breaks to rest your eyes can help maintain your night vision and overall alertness.”

One easy way to give your eyes a break: the 20-20-20 rule (click through for step-by-step 20-20-20 rule instructions). Although created to relieve computer vision syndrome, it may support night vision as well.

5. Look to the right

Headlights cut through fog and darkness, illuminate potential obstacles and help us stay alert driving at night. But they can be a real annoyance, especially if you have poor night vision. Rather than staring directly at oncoming traffic, Dr. Kelly recommends focusing on the right-hand lane markings.

“This technique reduces the intense glare from oncoming headlights, which can temporarily impair your vision and cause discomfort,” he says. “By shifting your focus, you still keep track of your lane positioning while avoiding the blinding effect of direct light.”  Focusing your attention on the right-hand lane markings also helps you avoid the temporary ‘after-image’ effect that occurs after staring directly at oncoming headlights.

6. Turn the radio on

Closeup of young woman hand control radio volume
stockarm / Getty

Driving while singing along to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is exhilarating, but it might also have benefits for your night vision! Consider that researchers at Boston University found that boosting alertness with a stimulus (like music) improves visual sensitivity and eye function.

7. Eat healthy, eye-friendly foods

“Eating a well-balanced diet full of various nutrients can assist with healthy vision,” says Yelena Wheeler, RDN, MPH, a registered dietitian nutritionist for the National Coalition on Health Care (NCHC). “Foods that are high in vitamin A are extremely vital. Retinol is a form of vitamin A and is extremely important for preventing night blindness.

Vitamin A-rich foods include:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Mangos
  • Butternut squash
  • Carrots

Speaking of carrots, researchers at UC Davis found that women with night blindness who ate vitamin A-rich foods daily, like carrots, were better able to adapt their vision in darkness.

Wheeler recommends incorporating several other nutrients into your diet as well, such as:

  • Vitamin C, found in citrus fruit, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli, bell peppers, tomatoes, and papaya
  • Vitamin E, found in sunflower seeds, spinach, avocados, almonds, and hazelnuts
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, sardines, walnuts, flax, Brussel sprouts, and oysters

“Vitamin C has antioxidant properties which reduce oxidative stress (cellular damage) and may delay cataract formation. Vitamin E has antioxidant properties that can slow down macular degeneration,” Wheeler explains. “Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, contain docosahexaenoic acid (or DHA), which is used by the retina to protect photoreceptor cells” (the cells responsible for helping you see at night). (Click through to see how omega-3s can ward off seasonal affective disorder, too.)

Related: Doctors Reveal the Snack That Cuts Your Risk of Vision-Clouding Cataracts in Half

8. Consider supplements

Carotenoids (the antioxidant-rich plant pigments that make fruits and vegetables yellow, orange and red) are found in many of the foods mentioned above. Two in particular, lutein and zeaxanthin, protect the eyes from damage. But according to registered dietitian nutritionist Sara Chatfield, MPH, RDN, “most Americans consume only about 1 to 2 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin per day when experts recommend consuming at least 6 mg daily to preserve eye health.”

If you’re worried about not getting enough lutein and zeaxanthin from your diet, Chatfield recommends talking with your doctor about supplementation. One small study of older adults published in the journal Nutrients concluded that participants who were given 7 mg of lutein and 14 mg of zeaxanthin daily for six months experienced improved night vision and better visual processing.

One to try: Bausch + Lomb Ocuvite (Buy from Amazon, $22.30, for 90 softgel capsules). This once-daily supplement contains lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids. One verified buyer notes: “It does seem to help my vision at night which I am thankful for. It seems to cut down on the glare and gives [me] a brighter view of the road.”

Related: Opthalmologist: These Nutrients Can Protect Your Sight From Macular Degeneration

9. Try anti-reflective glasses or contact lenses

Eye care, choice with glasses or contact lens in hands
PeopleImages / Getty

Another easy way to improve night vision: anti-reflective glasses or contact lenses. These have a yellow or blue anti-reflective coating that helps filter out light. Specifically, they reduce glare and halo effects around lights, making it easier to see at night, Dr. Kelly says. “There are a variety of glasses easily and inexpensively available for this purpose.”

Adds Dr. Rojas, “We’re now able to incorporate blue-violet light filtering properties into the contact lens material. The biggest difference is that we’re able to use a much higher concentration of this unique filter (60%) compared to 20%-40% in glasses.”

“The lens, called ACUVUE OASYS MAX 1-day (Buy from 1-800-Contacts, $47.99 for a 30-day supply) is a daily disposable contact that significantly improves light scatter, halos and starbursts in my patients. This results in significant improvement in all-day comfort and vision in different light settings.” Dr. Rojas cites an anecdote of two patients with poor night vision who work as overnight delivery drivers. “These contacts improved their night vision clarity and have been a game changer.”

For more vision news, keep reading:

Blurry Vision? Top Doc Reveals When It’s Cause for Concern — And How To Keep Your Sight Sharp

The Benefits of Blue Light Glasses Have Been Overblown, Says New Study — Here’s What Eye Doctors Want You to Know

Marigold Extract is ‘Supreme’ for Improved Eyesight, Says Top Eye Doc — How to Reap the Benefits

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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