Can College Harm Your Vision?

Study Links Myopia to Higher Education

College student studying at a computer
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If you are more educated, are you smarter? Not necessarily, but you might be more nearsighted. A 2012 study by German researchers has found that the more years you spend in college, the greater your risk for becoming nearsighted. 

What Is Nearsightedness?

Nearsightedness, or myopia, is an eye problem that causes objects at a distance to be blurry. A nearsighted person can clearly see objects that are close to them, but has a hard time focusing on objects that are far away. Someone with nearsightedness may squint noticeably when trying to view distant objects. They may also sit very close to the television or bring books very close to their eyes when reading. Sometimes nearsightedness causes people to be totally unaware of far-away objects.

Nearsightedness occurs when the eyeball is slightly longer than normal, or when the cornea is steeper than average. These conditions cause light to focus in front of the retina instead of directly on its surface. In most cases, nearsightedness is inherited. However, there is some evidence that suggests that intense close-up activities, such as reading for prolonged periods of time at close range or playing video games for many hours, in early adulthood can induce nearsightedness. Nearsightedness is also associated with cataracts, glaucoma, myopic macular degeneration, and retinal detachment.

Nearsightedness and Higher Education

In the United States, the percentage of nearsightedness is about 42% of the population, which sounds high enough. However, in Asian countries, nearsightedness has soared to 80% of the population and the severity of the nearsightedness is much greater.

The Gutenberg Health Study results show that the higher the education level, the more prevalent nearsightedness is. The study reveals the levels of nearsightedness broken down into education level:

  • No high school education - 24% nearsighted
  • High school and vocational school graduates - 35% nearsighted
  • University graduates - 53% nearsighted

Researchers also found that the more years people were in school, the higher their level of myopia. In fact, the study showed the more years spent in school, the more nearsighted the person became, with the nearsightedness worsening for each year of school.

Is Nearsightedness Really Acquired?

While this study is one of the first to point toward more time spent in the books as the cause of increased nearsightedness, others have suggested that myopia is more often acquired than inherited. The development of nearsightedness was always thought to be partially due to genes. However, this study showed that although there is definitely a genetic contribution to someone developing nearsightedness, it appears that inheritance was a much weaker factor when compared to education level.

Being Outdoors May Help

Not many people realize the importance of being outside. Another study conducted in Denmark and Asia showed that the more time children spent outdoors and exposing themselves to daylight, the less nearsightedness they developed. One conclusion we can make for our own children is that good students need to balance their life with quality time spent outdoors in the daylight.

What Can We Do?

At this time, nearsightedness can only be treated. There is no cure for myopia. Most nearsighted people wear glasses or contact lenses. Studies are being conducted to find whether bifocal glasses worn by children can reduce or halt the progression of myopia. Also, there are methods of fitting special reverse geometry contact lenses to flatten the central cornea to reduce nearsightedness.The lenses are worn only while you sleep and most patients achieve functional vision during the day. This treatment is referred to as orthokeratology or corneal refractive therapy. The procedure works well for lower prescriptions. Still, others choose to treat their nearsightedness with laser vision correction most often termed LASIK (Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis.)

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Article Sources

  • Mirshahi, Alireza, MD, and Katharina A. Ponto, MD, René Hoehn, MD and Isabella Zweiner, PhD. "Myopia and Level of Education." Results from the Gutenberg Health Study. Journal of Ophthalmology, April 2014, American Academy of Ophthalmology Annual Meeting, November 2012, Chicago, Illinois, and Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology Annual Meeting, May 2012.