Myopia is the medical term for nearsightedness. People who are nearsighted or “myopic” have fuzzy or unclear distance vision, but can usually see well up close without using any glasses or contact lens correction. Most importantly, the vast majority of nearsighted people with healthy eyes can almost always be corrected by LASIK or PRK (laser vision correction procedures).
The amount of myopia that someone eventually develops is believed to result from a number of hereditary and environmental factors. A significant percentage of myopia is probably inherited because the shape and length of the eye are primarily genetically determined and together establish the “focal point” of the eye. Myopia may start affecting vision early in childhood or significantly later in life. Nearsightedness is also quite common and usually affects up to 20 to 40% of the population.
The blurriness associated with this condition is caused by the way that light travels through the front of the eye and how this image is later focused on the retina at the back of the eye. When a person’s visual system is functioning properly, these images are focused clearly from the front eye surface all the way to the back of the eye. Nearsighted people have a so-called “refractive error” which means that the image is not focused properly on the retina. This refractive error may be caused by the front surface of the eye (the cornea) being too steep or to flat, or simply by the overall shape of the eyeball being unusually long. In myopia, the focal point is not directly on the retina where it should be, but rather is focused in front of the retina. From the patient’s perspective, this fuzzy retinal image will appear blurry when it reaches the brain where the actual “seeing” occurs.
Signs and Symptoms of Myopia
People with myopia often experience minor inconveniences such as needing to squint while trying to read road signs or occasional eyestrain. In some cases, nearsightedness may also cause mild, moderate, or even severe headaches. Since myopia tends to show up early in life, it is important to look for signs that a child may be nearsighted. If your child can’t see the chalkboard or “smartboard”, needs to sit close to the television to see clearly, or squints and blinks excessively, these may be early indicators of myopia.
Myopia tends to worsen during adolescence because of the natural growth of the eyeball along with the rest of the body. Eyeglasses or contacts may be used to achieve adequate vision for the normal activities of daily life – at least until age 18 when the growth of the eyeball is usually complete. Beginning at age 18, laser vision correction (LASIK or PRK) can be considered as an excellent alternative to glasses or contacts because these procedures can provide permanent vision correction to patients.
A complete eye exam with a qualified eye doctor can help determine which of these options is right for you. It is a good idea for most patients to schedule an eye exam if their eyesight without glasses or contacts is blurry enough to affect their ability to perform basic tasks or interferes with safe driving – especially at night. Since the onset of nearsightedness is usually gradual (and may not be noticed until it is somewhat advanced), it is recommended that most people get their eyesight checked at the following intervals:
• Every two to four years up until age 40
• Every one to three years between ages 40 and 54
• Every one to three years between ages 55 and 64
• Every one to two years after age 65
For Children and Adolescents
• As newborns
• During checkups up until they start going to school
• Every one to two years while at school
There are a several different methods to correct myopia. The traditional “old-fashioned” approach uses well known “vision appliances” such as glasses or contact lenses to correct the vision. Once someone reaches 18 years of age, they can also consider Laser Vision Correction such as LASIK (“Laser-Assisted In-Situ Keratomileusis”) or PRK (Photorefractive Keratectomy).
LASIK for Myopia
LASIK is the most successful elective procedure in the history of medicine because it is so safe, so effective, and can reduce or eliminate a lifetime of glasses or contact lens use with a procedure that usually takes less than one minute per eye. This outpatient surgical procedure uses lasers that can permanently correct the shape of the cornea and provide clearer vision by repositioning the visual image properly onto the retina. LASIK is an extremely safe, effective, and popular procedure for correcting myopia (nearsightedness), astigmatism, and farsightedness. Laser Vision Correction can either be performed with a “flap” (LASIK) or without a flap (PRK). Both procedures provide excellent results by fine-tuning the optics of the eye so that light focuses properly on the retina to improve vision.