Myopia, or nearsightedness, affects about a quarter of the U.S. population. It can be managed or delayed, but there is no known cure.
If you can see things clearly up close, but they get blurrier as they get farther away, you might have myopia.
While myopia has no cure, you can successfully manage the condition with corrective lenses or refractive surgery, such as LASIK. Early interventions, such as limiting screen time for children, can sometimes delay its progression.
Myopia, also known as nearsightedness, is a vision-related condition in which distant objects appear blurry but close-up objects typically look clear. If you have myopia, you may be able to read a book but might have difficulty reading a billboard down the road.
Myopia is known as a “refractive error” of the eye. This means that vision issues are due to the shape of your eye.
With myopia, your eye is typically longer from front to back than is usual — kind of like an olive or a grape. This causes light to focus in front of your retina instead of on it, leading to difficulty seeing objects at a distance.
Signs and symptoms of myopia
If left untreated, myopia can cause:
- blurry vision when looking at distant objects
- squinting to try to see clearly
- eye fatigue or discomfort after prolonged visual tasks, such as reading or using a computer
- headaches caused by eye strain or squinting
- a tendency to sit closer to the TV or computer screen to see clearly
- difficulty seeing while driving, especially at night or in low light conditions
When nearsightedness is mild, it’s called low myopia. When symptoms are severe, it’s known as high myopia.
There is no known cure for nearsightedness, but treatment options can help manage symptoms or slow the progression of the condition.
Can nearsightedness get better by itself?
In some cases, myopia can improve on its own, particularly during childhood and adolescence. This is because the eyeball grows and develops during these years, potentially causing your vision to correct itself.
Studies have also found that increasing your time outdoors may help protect the development of myopia.
Several treatments can help manage the symptoms of myopia.
- Eyeglasses: Corrective lenses are designed to bend light as it enters the eye, allowing the light to focus properly on the retina and provide clear vision.
- Contact lenses: Contact lenses, which are made of soft, flexible material, are designed to sit directly on the cornea, the clear outer surface of the eye. Similar to eyeglasses, they help adjust the way light enters the eye.
- Refractive surgery: Procedures such as LASIK, photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), and small incision lenticule extraction (SMILE) use lasers to reshape the cornea and provide permanent vision correction. However, these procedures aren’t suitable for everyone and carry some potential risks and side effects.
- Orthokeratology: Also called Ortho-K, this nonsurgical treatment involves wearing special contact lenses overnight to reshape the cornea temporarily. The cornea retains its new shape throughout the day, allowing clear vision without the need for glasses or contacts.
- Low dose atropine eye drops: These drops are typically used to dilate the pupil of the eye before eye exams or eye surgery. Low concentrations of these drops can slow down the progression of myopia in children and adolescents.
How to prevent nearsightedness from getting worse
While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent myopia from getting worse, a few strategies may help slow its progression, particularly in childhood and adolescence:
- Take frequent breaks: Taking frequent breaks while doing close-up work can help prevent eye fatigue, which is common in myopia.
- Limit screen time: Spending long periods of time staring at a computer or phone screen can cause eyestrain and fatigue. While study results in a
review from 2020directly linking myopia to screen time are mixed, it’s still a good idea to follow the 20-20-20 rule: Take a break every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Spend more time outdoors:
Research from 2021suggests that spending more time outdoors during childhood reduces the risk of developing myopia.
- Correct vision problems early: Correcting vision problems early via regular eye exams and corrective lenses can help prevent the progression of myopia.
- Consider low dose atropine eye drops:
Research published in 2023shows that low dose atropine eye drops can significantly reduce the risk of myopia in children and adolescents. More studies are needed to understand whether this treatment option prevents or delays onset.
- Manage other health conditions: It’s important to treat and manage other health conditions, such as diabetes, that can increase your risk of developing myopia.
Not all strategies will work for everyone, though, so you may still experience a worsening of myopia over time.
Myopia, or nearsightedness, is extremely common, affecting about a quarter of the American population.
While there’s no way to completely prevent the condition, it can sometimes be slowed or delayed, especially if action is taken during childhood. If you have myopia, it can be successfully managed with treatment, such as corrective lenses, contacts, or even surgery.
If you think you have myopia, it’s important to consult with an optometrist or ophthalmologist to determine the best course of action for your specific needs.