Am I going blind?
March 19, 2009 8:17 PM   Subscribe

When I wake up in the middle of the night, I can barely see out of one of my eyes. Should I be concerned?

When I wake up in the night/early morning, it is very difficult to see out of my right eye. It only happens when its dark. Its as if my night vision in my right eye is significantly worse than my left eye. I can see far more out of my left eye, even though it is dark. It's kind of terrifying, it almost feels like I'm going blind in the one eye. As soon as I turn on the lights though, my vision is normal in both eyes (albeit very bad, but normal). I don't think it happens when I first turn out the lights at night, only when I've just woken up. Should I be worried?
posted by bluloo to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a digital clock on the right hand side of your bed?

I used to wake up like this when I accidentally left the brightness on the clock up.
posted by tomierna at 8:20 PM on March 19, 2009

Yeah, if you sleep with the left side of your face either into the pillow or facing away from the window/clock/bright shiny things, your right eye would be exposed to more ambient light and thus have worse night vision.
posted by Hargrimm at 8:28 PM on March 19, 2009

I typically sleep on my left side facing a wall, and don't have a bedside clock. There is some ambient light in my room (a small flashing light on my external hard drive) but I don't know if that would be enough to cause this degree of difference. But it's possible.
posted by bluloo at 8:32 PM on March 19, 2009

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor authorized to give medical advice. I am using logic to offer a suggestion which may, or may not, have anything to do with your problem. YOU SHOULD SEE A DOCTOR IF THIS ISSUE CONTINUES TO CONCERN YOU.

One possible answer for this is that for some reason your right eye does not dilate when you go to sleep, and therefore does not let in enough light for you to see out of it in a darkened room. In darkness, eyes normally dilate after a period of time to let in more light and allow us to see somewhat. For example, if you've had your eyes dilated for an eye exam, you know how out of focus your eyes can get once they fully dilate following the eye drops. Imagine you are in a dark room in that condition; you would likely not be able to see a thing. That's one of many possible answers.

Since your eyesight is involved, you should minimally see an optometrist (but preferably an ophthalmologist) to get an opinion about this issue. We always imagine the worst when it comes to strange things that happen to our bodies. Chances are the answer can be simple and relatively easy to resolve; and there's the possibility that there's absolutely nothing amiss. But don't risk your sight, what's it worth to you?
posted by konig at 9:17 PM on March 19, 2009

This is one of those cases where a honest to goodness medical opinion would be useful.

Even if your sight is perfect apparently you're supposed to see an ophthalmologist every few years whether your vision is poor or not (I know I'm way overdue) to make sure that you don't have any eye problems. So maybe this can be your cue to go and get your eyes checked out. When you do, you can always pose this question and get reassurance or advice.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:21 PM on March 19, 2009

A while back I had a near-miss with an eye problem called iritis. It manifests as a terrible irritation of the eye, painful and red. It sometimes gets misdiagnosed as "pink eye". Eventually it'll go away on its own, but if it isn't diagnosed correct and treated correctly (with steroid eye drops and dilation eye drops) then one potential side effect is to make it so that the iris can no longer dilate. Have you had such a case of irritation in the past which you toughed through without going to a doctor?

I would recommend the following as a test. Take a flashlight with you into the bathroom, close the door, and turn the light out (and leave the flashlight off). It ought to be pitch black. Then sit with your back to the door (so you can't see the crack) and wait 2 or 3 minutes. After that, put the business end of the flashlight hard against the palm of your hand and turn it on, so that the only light you can see is through your hand. That'll be very dim. If it looks the same brightness with both your eyes, then your right iris is probably dilating normally. If it doesn't, if it seems a lot less bright with your right eye, go see an opthalmologist.

They'll be able to check it for certain because they'll use drops to try to dilate your iris.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:33 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is there any sensation in the eye that doesn't see as well?

Sometimes when I'm in an extreme sleep state (either sleeping *really* well or sleepy crapily) I'm pretty sure that I sometimes press my eye socket into my pillow. Sleeping this way deforms my eyeball temporarily and makes the vision very blurry and almost impossible to focus from that eye.

It goes away fairly quickly, but I can't imagine that it's great for my eye.

Upon re-reading; you sleep on your left side and it's your right eye that's affected... do you wake up on your left side?

Is this an invariable condition - every time you wake up in the middle of the night, you have difficulty seeing out of your right eye? Maybe you wake up because your right eye is being deformed and had become uncomfortable enough to wake you up? One way to test this is to get those perforated metal eyepatch thingies and tape them over your eyes (they rest on your orbitals) and see if this is still a problem...
posted by porpoise at 9:35 PM on March 19, 2009

I've definitely experienced what porpoise describes. The eye can take a few minutes to regain its normal shape when it's been pressed into the pillow for a while. I've also has several bouts of iritis, which Chocolate Pickle mentions and, in my own case, I can tell you that is a very different experience. Your case sounds much more like the former to me than the latter but you aren't sleeping on your left side and it would usually take a couple minutes for the vision to clear up with or with out the light.

I think it's worth a trip to the doctor just to be on the safe side. It's probably not serious but you never know. My mother-in-law had some weird dark spots (areas of her vision that appeared darker than others) that came and went. Turned out to be the beginning of a detached (detaching?) retina, and the doctor said it was really good that they caught it early.
posted by esome at 10:10 PM on March 19, 2009

Not to be all scary internetsy fearmonger, but some degenerative eye diseases begin with bad night vision and eventually progress to blindness (over a few decades). I'd go see a doctor.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:11 PM on March 19, 2009

My left eye has much better night vision than
my right eye. It also has somewhat less vivid
color vision that my right eye, but this is
only really noticeable in bright sunlight.

I talked to my optometrist about it and she
seemed completely unconcerned.

My theory is that the balance of rods versus
cones is different between my eyes.
posted by thedward at 11:13 PM on March 19, 2009

I've experienced precisely this on a couple of occasions. I'd hear a noise on the baby monitor at 3am, get up to go to my son's room, then realise I was almost completely blind in one eye. The first time I was quite concerned, but the effect didn't last more than a couple of minutes, and it definitely went away in bright light.

As it has only happened twice in two years I'm inclined to agree with others who say it's probably something to do with sleep position. But as it's happening quite a lot in your case, a medical opinion will at least provide reassurance.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:31 AM on March 20, 2009

For any medical issues with your eyes, please do NOT go to an optometrist -- they can only prescribe glasses/contacts.
Please go to an ophthalmologist.
posted by j at 7:59 AM on March 20, 2009

Thanks for everyone's responses. I think it is probably related to how I'm sleeping, but just to be safe I'm going to see an opthamologist as soon as possible.
posted by bluloo at 9:28 AM on March 20, 2009

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