Background: People with degenerative retinal diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, may have adequate day vision but suffer from poor night vision. We have tested newly developed night vision goggles (NVG) to help these patients overcome their night blindness, thereby promoting more opportunities for normal activities at night or in the dark.
Methods: A total of 42 subjects with night blindness due to retinitis pigmentosa, choroideremia, cone rod dystrophy, or Bardet Biedl syndrome were recruited and clinically examined (visual acuity, visual field, and contrast sensitivity). Using an experienced mobility trainer, we tested binocular NVG on the subjects in two locations: a dark room and a 1 to 2 h outside course at night that provided different levels of difficulties (i.e., obstacles, brightness, and contrast). The assessment of which patients benefited from the NVG was predominantly based on the subjective evaluation of the mobility trainer, followed by their graded responses on two questionnaires.
Results: Based on the evaluation of the mobility trainer, 23 (61%) of the 42 subjects experienced improved mobility and orientation with the NVG outdoors, and 19 (39%) subjects did not. The ophthalmic data demonstrated that a visual acuity better than 20/100 and a visual field > 5 degrees (Goldmann perimetry III4) is necessary to benefit from NVG usage. In addition, subjective responses on increased mobility and independence were positively correlated with successful NVG testing.
Conclusions: Night vision goggles have the ability to improve poor night vision in subjects with visual acuity > 20/100 and a visual field > or = 5 degrees (Goldmann: III4). In so doing, NVG can help overcome the obstacles experienced by many people suffering from night blindness. NVG, therefore, have the potential to greatly improve quality of life.