The ability to defocus your eyes on command is a natural one, but not everyone can do it.

It’s accomplished by having the ability to relax the ciliary muscles in your eyes, which causes them to lose their focusing powers. Defocusing your eyes may be needed if you’re trying to look at up-close objects, hidden images, or 3D artwork.

Still, not everyone has the ability to relax the ciliary muscles needed to help their eyes unfocus.

Certain medical or vision conditions may interfere with this process. Other signs of visual impairment may accompany the ability to defocus your eyes, which you might want to discuss with an eye doctor.

Here’s what you need to know about unfocusing your eyes and whether you need to see a doctor if you’re having problems doing it.

Your eyes contain muscle fibers that help you see objects up close, as well as those that are far away.

When you’re looking at an object or reading material up close, your ciliary muscles contract. This gives the lenses flexibility so they can change shape and help you focus.

The opposite effect happens when you’re trying to “unfocus,” or defocus, your eyes. In such cases, the ciliary muscles in your eyes relax. This process also helps you see objects that are far away.

Normally, you don’t have to think about whether you need to “focus” or “unfocus” your eyes. The lenses in your eyes automatically adjust so that you can see your best at all distances.

However, some people may find it more challenging to unfocus their eyes. You may be able to tell this is a problem if you’re having difficulty seeing objects, words, or images when the distances are changed.

Accommodative dysfunction

Children and young adults with eye focusing problems may have a condition known as accommodative dysfunction.

This visual problem may also cause the following symptoms:

Children who might have issues unfocusing their eyes might also exhibit other signs, such as:

  • avoiding homework
  • resistance to reading or writing
  • inability to follow along while reading
  • perceived inability to pay attention, especially in school settings
  • decreased productivity
  • inconsistency with schoolwork


As you age, you may lose the ability to focus and unfocus your eyes, but not necessarily have accommodative dysfunction. Age-related eye focusing issues are primarily caused by presbyopia.

Presbyopia occurs due to natural changes in the eye lens, which cause an increased lack of flexibility. This makes it difficult to see objects up close. You might find yourself moving screens and reading materials closer to your face so you can see them better.

It’s common for adults to develop presbyopia after the age of 40, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). As the condition progresses, you may experience:

  • eye strain
  • blurry vision
  • headaches

Problems with being able to unfocus your eyes are sometimes linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A large 2016 survey found that ADHD was more common in children with vision problems, with an estimated 15.6 percent compared with 8.3 percent in children without any vision problems.

Having an ADHD diagnosis doesn’t mean you automatically have vision difficulties. On the flip side, having vision problems doesn’t mean you have ADHD, either.

One explanation for the study’s findings is the similarity in symptoms of a vision focus issue and ADHD. This is especially obvious in children who might have problems:

  • finishing their schoolwork
  • sitting still while reading
  • paying attention in class

It’s important to see both a primary doctor and an eye doctor to gain the correct diagnosis. As some professionals have pointed out, children might be incorrectly diagnosed and treated for ADHD when underlying vision problems may be to blame.

It’s also possible to have a vision problem and ADHD at the same time.

If you’re finding it increasingly difficult to unfocus your vision, it’s important to see an eye doctor. Chances are, you may not even realize you have problems unfocusing your eyes — rather, you’re experiencing difficulty reading along with other symptoms.

Accommodative dysfunction may be corrected with bifocal contact lenses or glasses. These help your eyes change their focus more easily without causing strain.

It’s also important to address presbyopia before you experience uncomfortable symptoms. Presbyopia is corrected with either eyeglasses or contact lenses, but you may also consider surgery.

Any changes to your vision — including blurriness — warrant speaking with your eye doctor. Even if you don’t have any obvious signs of a vision problem, the AAO recommends seeing an eye doctor for regular screenings starting at age 40.

You should also consider seeing your primary doctor if blurry vision and headaches are accompanied by other concerning symptoms, such as speech difficulties or eye discharge. These could be underlying signs of a serious medical problem.

As your eyes shift between objects that are close and far away, your lenses automatically shift shape to help you adjust your focus. However, vision problems may make it difficult to focus and unfocus.

It’s important to see an eye doctor if you suspect you or your child has any vision issues. When detected early, vision problems may be corrected with contacts or eyeglasses to reduce your symptoms and to help you see images both near and far.