Nearsightedness, or myopia, as it is medically termed, is a vision condition in which close objects are seen clearly, but objects farther away appear blurred. Nearsightedness occurs if the eyeball is too long or the cornea, the clear front cover of the eye, has too much curvature. As a result, the light entering the eye isn’t focused correctly and distant objects look blurred.
Nearsightedness is a very common vision condition affecting nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population. Some research supports the theory that nearsightedness is hereditary. There is also growing evidence that it is influenced by the visual stress of too much close work.
Generally, nearsightedness first occurs in school-age children. Because the eye continues to grow during childhood, it typically progresses until about age 20. However, nearsightedness may also develop in adults due to visual stress or health conditions such as diabetes.
A common sign of nearsightedness is difficulty with the clarity of distant objects like a movie or TV screen or the chalkboard in school. A comprehensive optometric examination will include testing for nearsightedness. An optometrist can prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses that correct nearsightedness by bending the visual images that enter the eyes, focusing the images correctly at the back of the eye.
Depending on the amount of nearsightedness, you may only need to wear glasses or contact lenses for certain activities, like watching a movie or driving a car. Or, if you are very nearsighted, they may need to be worn all the time.
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Laser procedures such as LASIK and PRK are also a possible treatment for nearsightedness in adults. They involve reshaping the cornea by removing a small amount of eye tissue. This is accomplished by using a highly focused laser beam on the surface of the eye.
For people with higher levels of nearsightedness, other refractive surgery procedures are now available. These procedures involve implanting a small lens with the desired optical correction directly inside the eye, either just in front of the natural lens (phakic intraocular lens implant) or replacing the natural lens (clear lens extraction with intraocular lens implantation). These procedures are similar to one used for cataract surgery patients, who also have lenses implanted in their eyes (intraocular lens implants).
What causes nearsightedness?
The exact cause of nearsightedness is unknown, but two factors may be primarily responsible for its development:
- visual stress
There is significant evidence that many people inherit nearsightedness, or at least the tendency to develop nearsightedness. If one or both parents are nearsighted, there is an increased chance their children will be nearsighted.
Even though the tendency to develop nearsightedness may be inherited, its actual development may be affected by how a person uses his or her eyes. Individuals who spend considerable time reading, working at a computer, or doing other intense close visual work may be more likely to develop nearsightedness.
Nearsightedness may also occur due to environmental factors or other health problems:
- Some people may experience blurred distance vision only at night. This “night myopia” may be due to the low level of light making it difficult for the eyes to focus properly or the increased pupil size during dark conditions, allowing more peripheral, unfocused light rays to enter the eye.
- People who do an excessive amount of near vision work may experience a false or “pseudo” myopia. Their blurred distance vision is caused by over use of the eyes’ focusing mechanism. After long periods of near work, their eyes are unable to refocus to see clearly in the distance. The symptoms are usually temporary and clear distance vision may return after resting the eyes. However, over time constant visual stress may lead to a permanent reduction in distance vision.
- Symptoms of nearsightedness may also be a sign of variations in blood sugar levels in persons with diabetes or an early indication of a developing cataract.
An optometrist can evaluate vision and determine the cause of the vision problems.