Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,
About a year ago, I started noticing that when driving at night, the oncoming car headlights would have spikes of light shooting out, usually straight up and straight down. I even saw some spiking lights in car tail lights in front of me. I was very tired, so just thought it was that. But it didn't go away in fact it's gotten steadily worse. I did some reading on the internet and now I'm very worried, and I'm wondering if this might be a symptom of some kind of serious problem, like cataracts or some other serious problem. I've already made an appointment with my doctor but it's not for 6 weeks. Please advise.
Lights in my eyes
Dear Lights in my eyes,
Seeing distortions in headlights at night is not necessarily a sign that you have cataracts. The star bursts or halos around headlights could be due to other factors as well such as the need for glasses, adjustment to current prescription lenses, need for anti-glare coating on lenses, injury to the eye, or post-op laser eye surgery, edema (swelling) in the conjuctivae or cornea, medication side effect, glaucoma, retinal disease and other potential causes. Obviously you need to have a complete eye exam by an ophthalmologist before the cause of your nighttime light distortion can be determined. Request a referral from your doctor if you don't feel comfortable waiting for your appointment.
WHY LIGHTS DISTORT AT NIGHT
The Ontario Association of Optometrists point out that seeing light distortions at night is common because when the pupil enlarges in dim light, the wide rays of light enter the eyeball creating a blur pattern on the retina. Higher amounts of spherical aberrations are produced making it more difficult to see clearly at night (www.optom.on.ca).
WHAT ARE CATARACTS
A cataract is a clouding of the eye lens that is normally clear. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) cataracts are the leading cause of blindness, accounting for 51% of world blindness, mainly due to lack of access to eye care. Although cataracts can occur at any age, most occur with advancing age. WHO reports that 1 in 6, or over 20 million Americans, age 40 or older have cataracts. But, more than half of all Americans will have cataracts by age 80. Besides aging, cataracts can develop after eye injuries or diseases, and it is possible although seldom that children are born with the condition (www.who.int).
SYMPTOMS OF CATARACTS
Some common symptoms of a cataract are as follows (National Eye Institute at www.nei.nih.gov):
1. Cloudy or blurry vision
2. Colors seem faded.
3. Glare. Headlights, lamps, or sunlight may appear too bright. A halo may appear around lights.
4. Poor night vision.
5. Double vision or multiple images in one eye.
6. Frequent prescription changes in your eyeglasses or contact lenses.
CAUSES OF CATARACTS
The National Eye Institute (www.nei.nih.gov) lists the following causes of cataracts:
4. After surgery for other eye problems such as glaucoma
5. Injury to the eye
6. Steroid use
7. Congenital: babies can be born with cataracts or develop them in childhood
8. Radiation: from prolonged UV (sunlight) exposure or radiation for eye treatment
There are various measures to improve eyesight if cataracts develop. The National Eye Institute points out surgery should be considered if cataracts cannot be improved with new eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. However, if surgery is necessary, then it will effectively treat the problem. The ophthalmologist will remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial lens.
The National Eye Institute recommends having a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years age 60 or older. Besides checking for cataracts, other vision problems can be detected such as age-related macular degeneration or glaucoma, and early treatment may save your sight.
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