What Is Nearsightedness?

Myopia Causes Distant Blurriness

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Nearsightedness, or myopia, is an eye problem that causes objects at a distance to be blurry. A nearsighted person can see things close to them but have a hard time focusing on objects far away.

This article explains nearsightedness types, symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment. It also covers risks associated with the condition.

Point of view looking through a pair of eye glasses looking at a city skyline
Mario Gutiérrez / Getty Images

Types of Nearsightedness

Nearsightedness may be mild (called "low myopia") or severe (called "high myopia"). If you have high myopia, your nearsightedness will usually stabilize in your twenties. Those with more severe nearsightedness are at higher risk of developing other eye conditions, like cataracts and glaucoma.

Children can inherit nearsightedness if one of their parents has it. In kids, you might notice signs of this vision problem when they are between 8 and 12 years old.

Nearsightedness Symptoms

If you have nearsightedness, you may exhibit specific symptoms, including:

  • Squinting when trying to view distant objects
  • Sitting very close to the television
  • Holding books very close to your eyes while reading
  • Difficulty seeing far-away objects
  • Asthenopia (eye strain)
  • Headaches

If you experience any of these symptoms, it's good to visit an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) for an evaluation.

What Causes Nearsightedness?

Nearsightedness occurs when the eyeball is slightly longer than usual or when the cornea (the clear dome of tissue at the front of the eye) is steeper than average. These conditions cause light to focus in front of the retina (thin tissue lining the back of the eyeball) instead of directly on its surface.

Potential causes of nearsightedness include:

  • Genetics
  • Not enough time spent outdoors
  • Close-up activities

In most cases, you inherit nearsightedness. However, some evidence suggests that the shift from outdoor activities to more indoor, close-up activities, like reading, using computers and other handheld electronics, and playing video games, may induce nearsightedness.

Although doctors often see this in clinical practice, research is still ongoing on the role of close-up activities and nearsightedness. In some countries, the general population is so nearsighted that it is considered a public health crisis or epidemic. For example, 80-90% of high school graduates have myopia in East and Southeast Asia.

In addition, a meta-analysis published in 2012 found that for each additional hour children spend outdoors per week, their risk of developing nearsightedness dropped by 2%.

Recap

Causes of nearsightedness include genetics and too many up-close activities. While the condition is often inherited, research is ongoing into whether screens, reading, and video games may increase the chances of being nearsighted.

How Is It Diagnosed?

An optometrist or ophthalmologist diagnoses eye conditions. Both specialists are eye doctors, but they have different levels of training.

Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist

An optometrist is an eye specialist, called a doctor of optometry (O.D.), with 8-9 years of education. They can manage, diagnose, and treat eye diseases.

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (M.D.) or osteopathic doctor (D.O.) with 12-13 years of training and education. They can treat a broader range of conditions and perform surgeries.

To diagnose nearsightedness, an eye doctor will do a comprehensive eye examination. This exam screens for all potential problems with your eyes and usually includes:

  • Visual acuity (check how clearly you see reading an eye chart)
  • Refraction (checks your vision against different prescriptions)
  • Eye dilation (scans your retina and optic nerve for damage or disease)
  • Studying how your pupils respond to light
  • Ocular motility (how your eyes are aligned)
  • Tonometry (eye pressure test with a puff of air to test for glaucoma)
  • Slit-lamp exam (looks for injury and diseases of the cornea, iris, eyelid, and lens)

When tested, some individuals over-focus or have accommodative spasms, which is blurry vision after focusing on something for a while. This episode occurs because your eyes have trouble relaxing after working hard on focusing on a near task, like a vision test. These spasms usually resolve after a few minutes.

Nearsightedness Treatment

Depending on the degree of nearsightedness, some people may only need glasses for driving or watching a movie. Others with a high degree of nearsightedness may only have clear vision a few inches from their nose.

Eye doctors treat nearsightedness with different types of devices or procedures to modify your vision, including:

Outlook

Nearsightedness is common and treatable. It varies in severity, so some may find that wearing corrective lenses completely resolves their sight with no side effects. However, others may experience occasional eyestrain or headaches.

High myopia increases the risk of some eye conditions, including:

Consistently wearing your glasses or contacts and getting regular eye exams to keep your prescription current reduces the likelihood of symptoms and helps catch problems early.

Summary

Myopia is the medical term for nearsightedness. Symptoms include eyestrain, headache, and difficulty seeing distant objects. Nearsightedness may be low (mild) or high (severe). High myopia increases the risk of certain eye conditions, including glaucoma, cataracts, and a detached retina.

Eye doctors diagnose through a comprehensive eye exam. Then, they treat it with corrective eyewear, like glasses or contact lenses or laser surgical treatment. Regular eye exams to keep your prescription current and screen for potential problems are critical when you have nearsightedness.

A Word From Verywell

There is some evidence that near-work, like lots of screen time or reading, combined with little outdoor time, may contribute to the risk of developing nearsightedness. So, take frequent breaks when doing near work (like the 20-20-20 rule, where you rest your eyes every 20 minutes by looking at something more than 20 feet away for 20 seconds). In addition, if you combine those breaks with daily outdoor time, you'll be doing your eyes a favor.

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2 Sources
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  1. Xiong S, Sankaridurg P, Naduvilath T, et al. Time spent in outdoor activities in relation to myopia prevention and control: A meta-analysis and systematic review. Acta Ophthalmol. 2017;95(6):551-566. doi:10.1111/aos.13403

  2. Sherwin JC, Reacher MH, Keogh RH, Khawaja AP, Mackey DA, Foster PJ. The association between time spent outdoors and myopia in children and adolescents: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Ophthalmology. 2012;119(10):2141-2151. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2012.04.020