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Nearsightedness

Alternate Names

  • myopia
  • Normal eye
  • Eye

Definition

Nearsightedness is a visual condition where a person is able to see things up close, but not far away.

What is going on in the body?

Nearsightedness occurs when light rays entering the front of the eye focus in front of the retina instead of on it. The retina is the membrane in the back of the eye that receives images and carries their signal through the optic nerve to the brain. In most nearsighted people, the light rays fail to reach the retina because the eye is too long from front to back.
Sometimes the length of the eye is normal but the cornea, the part of the eye that lets in light, is too steep, causing light rays to come together too quickly. Myopia usually develops in children between the ages of 11 and 13, but can be seen in children much younger.
Sometimes the condition does not start until adulthood. Nearsightedness that begins after a person reaches middle age may indicate the start of cataracts. Cataracts are a condition in which the lens, a clear membrane behind the pupil, becomes cloudy.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Myopia is caused by:
  • an imbalance between the way the cornea and lens bend light rays
  • an abnormal length of the eyeball
Myopia is probably genetic, although doing a lot of close-up work may contribute to the condition. The theory is that large amounts of close work fattens the lens, causing nearsightedness.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

There is no way to prevent nearsightedness or stop its progression.

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

An eye care professional may suspect myopia in a person complaining of blurred vision when reading a blackboard or road signs from a distance. He or she can diagnose this condition during the portion of a routine eye examination.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

People who are very nearsighted are more likely to develop serious eye problems such as:
  • holes or tears in the retina.
  • high pressure in the eye, called glaucoma
  • degeneration in the central portion of the retina, called myopic macular degeneration
  • cataracts
As they age, these people must be followed more closely by an eye care professional to prevent vision loss.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the condition?

Treatment for myopia includes:
  • glasses
  • contact lenses
  • refractive laser surgery

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

A person who is slightly nearsighted needs to update his or her glasses prescription every 2 to 3 years, or sooner if he or she thinks it is needed. A person who is very nearsighted needs to see an eye care professional more often to be checked for high pressure in the eye, degeneration in the retina and cataracts.

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