What is nearsightedness?
Nearsightedness (myopia) is a common cause of blurred vision. It can be mild, moderate, or severe. If you are nearsighted, objects in the distance appear blurry and out of focus. You might squint or frown when trying to see distant objects clearly. View a photo as seen through a normal and a nearsighted eye.
Nearsightedness is usually a variation from normal, not a disease. Less often, nearsightedness happens because of another disease or condition.
What causes nearsightedness?
Most nearsightedness is caused by a natural change in the shape of the eyeball. Less often, nearsightedness may be caused by a change in the cornea or the lens.
These problems cause light rays entering the eye to focus in front of the retina. Normally, light focuses directly on the retina.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom is blurred vision when looking at distant objects. If you can see well enough to read newspaper print but you struggle to see things that are farther away, you are probably nearsighted. You may have trouble clearly seeing images or words on a blackboard, movie screen, or television. This can lead to poor school, athletic, or work performance.
Your child may be nearsighted if he or she squints or frowns, gets headaches often, or holds books or other objects very close to his or her face. Children who are nearsighted may sit at the front of the classroom or very close to the TV or movie screen. They may not be interested in sports or other activities that require good distance vision.
If you think that your child may be nearsighted, see an eye care specialist. Treating nearsightedness early is important. With better visual skills, your child won’t have as much trouble doing school work and other activities that require a person to see things far away.
When does nearsightedness start? How does it change over time?
Nearsightedness usually begins in childhood between ages 6 and 12. During the teen years, as the eyeballs continue to grow, it may develop or get worse quickly. Teenagers may need new glasses every 12 months or even more often.
Nearsightedness usually stops getting worse by age 20. Most nearsightedness stabilizes at a mild to moderate level.
How is nearsightedness diagnosed?
A routine eye exam can show whether you are nearsighted. The eye exam includes questions about your eyesight and a physical exam of your eyes. Ophthalmoscopy, slit lamp exams, and other tests that check vision and eye health are also part of a routine eye exam.
Eye exams should be done for new babies and at all well-child visits.footnote 1 Nearsightedness is usually first discovered in children of grade-school age.
How is it treated?
Most people who are nearsighted use eyeglasses or contact lenses to correct their vision.
Surgery can also reduce or fix nearsightedness. There are several surgery options, such as LASIK, PRK (photorefractive keratectomy), and artificial lens implants. The goal of surgery is to help you see more clearly without glasses or contacts. Most doctors consider 20/40 vision or better after surgery a satisfactory result. People with 20/40 vision or better are allowed to drive a car without corrective lenses.
If glasses or contact lenses are inconvenient for your work or lifestyle, surgery may be a good choice. But nearsightedness is not a disease, and a nearsighted eye is otherwise normal and healthy. Weigh your desire to have clear vision without glasses or contacts against the risks and cost of surgery. And be aware that you may still need to wear glasses or contact lenses after surgery.
If your vision doesn’t bother you and if you have no driving problems or other safety concerns, you don’t need to have any treatment. Nearsightedness won’t affect the health of your eye, and it won’t get worse just because you don’t wear glasses or don’t have surgery.
If you are nearsighted, get regular eye exams, and see your eye care specialist if you have changes in your vision.
- American Academy of Pediatrics, et al. (2016). Policy statement: Visual system assessment in infants, children, and young adults by pediatricians. Pediatrics, 137(1): 28–30. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2015-3596. Accessed March 6, 2017.
Other Works Consulted
- Kemper AR, et al. (2012). Uncorrected distance visual impairment among adolescents in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health, 50(6): 645–647.
- Riordan-Eva P (2011). Optics and refraction. In P Riordan-Eva, ET Cunningham, eds., Vaughan and Asbury’s General Ophthalmology, 18th ed., pp. 396–411. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Trobe JD (2006). Principal ophthalmic conditions. Physician’s Guide to Eye Care, 3rd ed., pp. 93–140. San Francisco: American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Current as of: May 5, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine & Christopher Joseph Rudnisky, MD, MPH, FRCSC – Ophthalmology