Eye conditions & symptoms 6 min read

Why does my vision get blurry when I drive?

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The ability to hop in your car and drive whenever and wherever you want to go is not only a privilege but an exciting opportunity to explore. However, for those who suffer from blurred vision while driving, cruising around town can quickly turn into a scary and dangerous experience.

So, why do some people’s eyes get blurry when driving? There are many simple reasons, such as dry eye and eye strain, as well as more severe issues, including retinal detachment or the effects from a stroke that might cause your vision to blur while driving.

Below, we cover the possible causes and solutions of blurred vision while driving to help you get back on the road with confidence. 

Why does my vision get blurry when I drive?

While most causes of blurry vision are minor, temporary and fixable, they still threaten your ability to see clearly when driving. Even minor vision issues should be addressed and treated as soon as possible to maintain your safety on the road.

Some common problems that may cause blurred vision while driving include:

Eye strain — Probably the most common cause of blurred vision, eye strain is caused by focusing intently for an extended period, which fatigues the eye muscles. Eye strain is typically associated with digital screens, but it can also come into play when driving.

Dry eye — Blurred vision is a common symptom of dry eye, as well as gritty, watery, burning eyes. Dry eye can quickly occur when you’re driving with the air conditioner blowing in your face, or it can be the result of dry eye syndrome.

Using artificial tears before you get behind the wheel, increasing your blink rate and repositioning the air conditioner, so it’s not blowing directly in your eyes can help reduce blurriness caused by dry eyes. 

Photophobia — Also known as light sensitivity, photophobia is a common condition that can cause blurred vision, headaches and eye pain. Wearing a pair of polarised sunglasses during the day can reduce glare, dim brightness and maintain clear vision while driving.

When driving at night, trade your sunglasses for a pair of clear lenses with a driving lens coating. This anti-reflective coating will cut down on the glare and halos commonly experienced when driving at night.

Cataracts — Cataracts typically occur later in life, when proteins in the eye’s lens clump together and form a cloudy haze over the eye. If you’re over the age of 40 and notice your vision is starting to look blurry or hazy and colours are appearing duller than usual, cataracts may be the cause. Schedule an appointment with your optician so you can get the issue checked out.

Myopia — Short-sightedness can make it difficult to see things in the distance. You may notice road signs or number plates blurred or unclear. The good news is that you can correct this with glasses or contact lenses.

Astigmatism — Like myopia is a refractive error and usually is present with short or long-sightedness. It means your eye is shaped more like a rugby ball than a round ball causing images to appear out of focus. Again, glasses and contact lenses can correct this. 

Is sudden blurred vision an emergency?

While a sudden onset of blurred vision may not constitute a trip to the hospital, it’s essential to talk to your eye care professional immediately to get a medical assessment of your situation. In some cases, blurred vision can be temporary and benign, but there are a few severe conditions that it can be a sign of, including:

Stroke — If the stroke occurs in a part of your brain that controls vision, sudden blurred vision can occur. Typically accompanied by slurred speech, weakness or heaviness of limbs, and a “pins and needles” feeling.

Detached retina — This happens when the retina, which is located at the back of the eye and is responsible for creating and sending visual information to the brain for recognition, becomes detached from its supportive tissue. This blood-vessel-rich tissue keeps the retina healthy and functioning, so detachment is an emergency and should be treated urgently. Other symptoms include light sensitivity, tunnel vision and full or partial vision loss.

Macular degeneration (wet) — In about 10% of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) cases, the dry form progresses to the wet form of AMD, the more advanced, damaging stage of the disease. With wet AMD cases, blood vessels grow beneath the retina and leak blood and fluid. This leakage causes damage to retinal cells, which results in blind spots in your central vision.

Please note that these instances are rare and are typically accompanied by other symptoms, as included above. However, if you experience blurred vision regularly, it’s essential to see your optician who will determine the cause.

Vision changes while driving are a threat to your comfort and safety. If you experience blurred vision or any other vision issues while operating a vehicle, you should pull over at the nearest safe stopping point. Wait until clear vision returns, or let someone else drive, even if that means you need to be picked up.

How to prevent eye strain when driving

Eye strain is one of the leading causes of blurred vision when driving. Taking these simple steps to prevent eye strain is your best bet for maintaining sharp eyesight on the road:

Wear glasses or lenses with your current vision prescription — Ensuring your vision prescription is correct and up to date is the best way to fix blurred vision while driving.

If you’ve never needed glasses before, but your vision has become blurry, perhaps your time for vision correction has arrived. Your optician will be able to identify any changes through a routine eye test.

Wear sunglasses when driving in sunny conditions — Wearing sunglasses has many benefits for your eyes, but wearing them while driving during the day will reduce glare and the sun’s brightness, and give you more clarity when driving. Modern car windscreens will filter UV, but if you have your side window or roof down, you should opt for sunglasses with UV protection.

If you require corrective lenses, consider a pair of photochromic (or light-adaptive) lenses that automatically darken with changing light conditions. Photochromic lenses are an easy and effective way to keep your vision clear and your eyes protected while behind the wheel — make sure you get a pair designed for use in the car.

Give your eyes a break — If you were to keep your arms flexed, without a break, for an hour, they would understandably be tired and sore. Your eyes are no different. Tiny muscles in your eyes are always focusing, so if they’re working nonstop over a long period, they’re going to become exhausted.

Take breaks at stop signs or red lights to rest your eyes for a few moments to give them the little boost they need to get you where you’re going safely.

Vision is the most crucial sense used while driving. Being mindful of what triggers your vision to blur and being proactive to restore clarity will help you feel safer and more confident on your next drive.