Are you squinting to better focus on objects in the distance? Do you find yourself scooting closer and closer to the TV to watch your favorite shows? You might be dealing with myopia.
Myopia, or nearsightedness, means you have a hard time focusing on things in the distance. And you’re far from alone. According to one study, the percentage of people in the U.S. who are nearsighted grew from 25 percent in 1971-72, to nearly 42 percent in the 1999-2004 time period.1
If you’re one of the millions of people dealing with myopia, you might wonder what causes it, some of the tell-tale symptoms, and what you can do about it.
Why Are You Nearsighted?
Being nearsighted means you have problems seeing things at intermediate and long distances. (The opposite of nearsighted is farsighted, which means you have problems seeing close up.)2
Myopia usually occurs when the shape of your eyeball changes over time, becoming elongated. This causes incoming light rays to focus in front of the retina, rather than on the surface, where they should. The result? Distance vision declines.
Another common cause of nearsightedness is an excessive curvature of the lens or the cornea.4
Most people start to become nearsighted when they are children. You might be at a higher risk of developing the condition if your parents had it. Myopia will typically be as bad as it’s going to get by the time a child becomes an adult. However, in some instances, it will continue to worsen as a person gets older.5
Symptoms of Nearsightedness
Regardless of the cause, there are several ways to tell if you might be developing myopia.
For example, you might have a hard time reading road signs as you’re driving.
You might find it harder than normal to clearly see an object on the other side of the room. But when it comes to working on your computer or reading a book, you don’t have any problems. That’s because your near vision is still good.6
There are other indications you might be nearsighted. For instance, you might feel more tired than usual after playing a sport, or after driving (especially at night). You might get headaches more often than normal, or find yourself squinting to see something clearly.7 These are all signs that you should visit an eye doctor. You will likely either need glasses or contact lenses, or a stronger prescription if you’re already using corrective lenses.
Most of the time, nearsightedness is an inconvenience. The health of your eyes is not in jeopardy. In rare instances, however, people develop a condition known as pathological, or degenerative, myopia. This is a serious problem, which is believed to be hereditary.8
Thankfully, only about 2 percent of people in the U.S. have this condition. The main cause of degenerative myopia is a rapid elongation of the eyeball. This results in a fast progression of the condition, leading to vision loss. Degenerative myopia also presents an increased risk of other eye problems, including bleeding in the eye and retinal detachment.9
A combination of medication and surgery (a method known as photodynamic therapy) can sometimes help reduce the complications associated with degenerative myopia.10
Most people will never have to deal with degenerative myopia. Their nearsightedness can be easily corrected through either contact lenses or glasses. Some nearsighted people only wear their glasses when they drive, watch TV, or need to see objects far away.
A lot of nearsighted people choose a surgical procedure known as refractive surgery in order to avoid having to wear any kind of corrective lenses. This type of procedure usually involves the use of a laser.
PRK and LASIK
For example, PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) involves the removal of a layer of the cornea. This flattens the cornea, so that light rays can focus on the retina, instead of in front of it.11
Another type of laser surgery — and one that is very popular — is known as LASIK (laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis). In a nutshell, this process cuts a flap on the cornea’s surface. Some of the tissue in the cornea is removed by laser, then the flap is put back in its normal position.12
Additional Options for Myopia
Some people, however, are not good candidates for laser surgery. The good news is that they have other options.
One of them is known as orthokeratology, or corneal refractive therapy. This non-surgical procedure uses a special type of contact lens worn during sleep. During this time, the lens reshapes the cornea. These lenses are removed upon waking. The cornea keeps its shape temporarily, so that people can see clearly without having to wear contacts or glasses. Then, they simply put the lenses back at bedtime.13
For people at high risk of complications from laser surgery, or for those who are severely nearsighted, there’s yet another option. There are implantable lenses that could help correct the problem. They work like contacts, but they’re permanent.14
Going Outside Could Reduce Nearsightedness Risk in Children
Researchers in Australia conducted a two-year study that showed children who spent more time outdoors had lower instances of myopia than those who spent more time inside. Children who stayed inside more often, and performed work that strained their eyes, had higher rates of nearsightedness.15
In a separate study, researchers in Asia also investigated the question of whether extended outdoor play could reduce a child’s risk of developing myopia. More than 300 children from one school were encouraged to go outside during recess. Another group of about 240 children from another school stayed inside. According to the results, 8.4 percent of the children who went outside developed myopia. Nearly 18 percent of the children who didn’t go outside developed the condition.6
Wrapping it Up
The main cause of myopia is an elongation of the eyeball. Although the condition can be annoying, most people can easily deal with being nearsighted. Glasses, contact lenses, or surgery will typically correct the problem. People generally become nearsighted during childhood, but there is evidence that increasing outdoor activities could lower the risk of becoming myopic.
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