You may want to tell your patients to ditch their yellow-lens night driving glasses. A study in JAMA Ophthalmology reports these tinted lenses don’t improve road visibility or diminish glare and halos, and may actually worsen visibility in some cases.

Whether a person is wearing yellow, red or blue lenses, they all cut out a portion of light, which basically equates to wearing sunglasses when driving at night, says lead study investigator Alex Hwang, PhD, professor at the Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmology.

 While people who wear the yellow-lens night driving glasses may feel as though they are able to see more “brightly,” their vision is not really improved, he adds. In fact, this perception may actually make overall night driving riskier because the wearer may be overconfident about their night vision, Dr. Hwang says.

The study, conducted at the Schepens Eye Research Institute in Massachusetts, included 22 patients who operated a driving simulator that included the option of bright oncoming headlights. Each participant drove scripted night-driving scenarios three times with three commercially available yellow-lens glasses and once with clear-lens glasses. The study included eight different night-driving conditions with the bright headlight option turned on and off.

The majority of subjects (18) were younger—between the ages of 27 and 28—and the other four patients, who were male, had an average age of 70. The first group consisted of 12 younger participants who responded when they saw a pedestrian in a navy blue shirt, and the second group was comprised of six younger and four older subjects who responded when they saw a pedestrian wearing an orange shirt. All participants had normal visual acuity.

The study found yellow-lens night-driving glasses did not appear to improve pedestrian detection at night or reduce the negative association between headlight glare and pedestrian detection. Researchers also found no difference in pedestrian detection with the yellow lenses.

Investigators observed younger participants were impacted most by headlight glare with the navy blue shirt pedestrian and older patients with the orange shirt pedestrian. Additionally, the study found older participants had a greater difference in response times with or without the headlight glare (1.5 seconds) compared with younger participants (0.3 seconds).          

Dr. Hwang suggests eye care practitioners should advise their patients not to wear night driving glasses. These glasses should be used during the daytime only, just like any other sunglasses, he says.

He adds a warning for patients: no magic glasses exist that make night driving safer or reduce oncoming headlight glare. If patients feel like headlight glare is increasing or they are bothered by it while driving at night, they should see their eye doctor, who should check for cataracts or age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Dr. Hwang stresses the importance of patients seeing an eye care practitioner in these instances since cataracts increase light scatter, which in turn, increase the negative glare effect. Additionally, AMD increases glare recovery time, so patients can be impacted by headlight glare even after the oncoming light has passed, he says.

Hwang AD, Tuccar-Burak M, Peli E. Comparison of pedestrian detection with and without yellow-lens glasses during simulated night driving with and without headlight glare. JAMA Ophthalmol. August 1, 2019 [Epub ahead of print].