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Astigmatism: How it affects lights and driving at night

Ing. Petra Průchová

Medically reviewed by Ing. Petra Průchová, Optometrist, on 15 Dec 2023. Written by Lentiamo

Table of contents

Many people with astigmatism experience challenges when driving at night or in low-light conditions. This condition affects how light enters the eye, which can cause blurred or distorted vision. Its impact on sight can vary, with some individuals experiencing mild symptoms and others facing more pronounced challenges.

Optometry and Vision Science concluded that astigmatic patients experienced decreased vision quality, with 66% experiencing night-time driving difficulties.1

So how does astigmatism affect vision when it's dark outside and how can you prevent these problems? Lentiamo optometrists describe some common problems associated with uncorrected astigmatism and lights at night, explain how this affects driving, and offer tips on how to manage these issues.

What is astigmatism?

Astigmatism is a refractive error caused by an irregular shaped cornea or lens. As a result, the eye doesn't focus light evenly on the retina, leading to blurry or distorted vision. It can occur alongside nearsightedness (myopia) or farsightedness (hyperopia) but come with additional visual challenges for individuals.

Is astigmatism worse at night?

Blurry vision associated with astigmatism can appear worse at night or in low lighting conditions. When it's dark, the pupils dilate to allow more light into the eyes. This dilation accentuates the effects of this particular refractive error when more light is taken in at once. The contrast between the surrounding darkness and a light source can seem to intensify the distortions or blurriness.

Addressing astigmatism-related vision issues is crucial to improve visual comfort and ensure safety.

How do people with astigmatism see lights?

Astigmatic individual often have difficulty seeing lights clearly, particularly in low-light conditions. Headlights, streetlights, and other lighting sources may become distorted or skewed in different ways.

Note that in the image above, the tail lights of the rear car are sharp and clear. This depicts normal or standard vision. Below is a comparison of astigmatism at night on the left vs normal vision on the right.

Common symptoms associated with astigmatism and lights include:

Blurry or fuzzy vision

As seen on the left, the visual field and lights may appear blurry, fuzzy, or out of focus due to the irregular light refraction caused by astigmatism.

Halos

A halo or ring may appear around a light source, making it difficult to distinguish its true form, size, or brightness. Lights may appear brighter if the halo extends far beyond its centre as pictured on the left.

Streaks

Lights may appear to have rays stemming from opposite ends as seen on the left. This creates a "streaky" effect where lights appear to be stretched.

Starbursts

Similar to halos, starbursts appear as star-shaped glare around headlights and streetlights. Thin rays of light radiate from a light's centre as pictured on the left.

The images above are visual representations of how astigmatism could impact vision. The actual effects for each individual can differ. If you experience any of the symptoms listed above or notice your vision at night has changed or worsened, contact your eye care professional.

Astigmatism and driving at night

Astigmatism may make it difficult to discern details, judge distances accurately, and distinguish between objects and their surroundings while driving at night or in poorly lit conditions.

It can be harder to perceive headlights, streetlights, and traffic signs clearly because lights may appear stretched, elongated, scattered, or have halos. This may make you involuntarily squint to try and enhance focus.

Uncorrected astigmatism can make it difficult, or even dangerous, to drive at night. There are steps you can take to keep yourself and others safe, as well as keep your vision clear.

How to manage astigmatism-related light problems

There are different ways of managing astigmatism-related problems when it comes to light. The first step is to visit your eye care specialist. They'll be able to determine what's causing your symptoms. From there, they'll suggest appropriate solutions such as corrective devices or other management tips.

Vision correction options

  • Specially designed toric contact lenses can correct the irregular corneal shape, providing clearer vision. The best contact lenses for astigmatism provide comfort and vision correction to make everyday activities like driving easier.
  • Prescription glasses with lenses tailored to minimise glare and improve visual clarity can be highly beneficial for nighttime driving. Keeping glasses clean is crucial for maintaining optimum vision as well.
  • There are different surgical procedures that can correct vision for patients with astigmatism, LASIK being one of the most common ones.

Pro tip: If you wear glasses, anti-glare coatings can be beneficial at any time of day. They are designed to reduce glare for fewer distractions, better visual clarity, and less eye fatigue. 

Environmental modifications

  • Proper lighting techniques  Softer or diffused lighting at home and the workplace can enhance overall visual comfort.
  • Anti-glare screens and filters  Utilising anti-glare screens and filters for electronic devices can help reduce eye strain and discomfort.

Tips for driving at night with astigmatism

In addition to contact lenses and glasses, there are other steps to take that can improve vision when driving at night with astigmatism:

  • Clean windshields, headlights, mirrors, and windows  Regularly cleaning these surfaces can significantly improve visibility while driving at night. Smudges and smears can reflect light which exacerbates visual problems.
  • Lower dashboard lights – Reducing the brightness of the dashboard lights can minimise distracting reflections on the windshield.
  • Night settings on mirrors – Some car mirrors have a night setting to reduce glare, which can be advantageous for astigmatic individuals at night.
  • Eye drops – Sometimes contact lenses and dry eyes occur at night after wearing lenses all day. Eye drops can help alleviate dryness and blurriness.

Pro tip: Lentiamo optometrist Barbora Keřková, Ing. explains, "Don't be afraid to go for the toric contact lens option if your correction requires it. With a suitably chosen type of toric contact lens, wearing comfort is not impaired when compared to spherical contact lenses, but they provide better vision. Toric contact lenses are becoming a popular option for patients with astigmatism, as their representation in the population is increasing and contact lens materials are constantly improving."

How do I find out if I have astigmatism?

If you suspect your issues are caused by this condition, you can take an online astigmatism test. This four-step test can satisfy your personal curiosity.

It’s important to have an eye care professional conduct an eye exam, including an astigmatism test, to confirm if you're astigmatic or not. They'll then help you choose the appropriate vision correction method.

Closing thoughts from Lentiamo

Addressing astigmatism-related vision issues is crucial to improve visual comfort and ensure safety while driving at night. Seeking an eye care professional to help manage vision problems is a great way for improving overall visual comfort and ensuring safety.

By adopting appropriate solutions, individuals with astigmatism can confidently navigate their environments and enjoy clearer vision on their journeys!


Sources

1. Optometry and Vision Science, Epidemiology and Burden of Astigmatism: A Systematic Literature Review

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