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What Is Myopia? (Short Sightedness)

by Eric Gathoni

What Is Myopia? (Short Sightedness)

Myopia, also known as short-sightedness or nearsightedness, is a complex vision condition that arises due to a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.

Genetically, myopia often runs in families, indicating that individuals with nearsighted parents are more likely to develop the condition.

What are the causes of Myopia?

Environmentally, a key factor associated with myopia development is the lack of time spent outdoors. Studies have suggested that exposure to natural light may be essential for normal eye growth during childhood, and lack of it can increase the risk of myopia.

In terms of lifestyle factors, close-up work such as reading, writing, computer use, and other types of screen time has been linked to the development and progression of myopia. This is often referred to as "near work". While the exact mechanism is not fully understood, it is believed that prolonged focus on close objects may put a strain on the eye and alter its growth patterns, leading to myopia.

Despite these insights, the exact cause of myopia is still under active research, as it's likely that various factors interact in complex ways to influence eye growth and the development of myopia. Therefore, it's crucial to maintain regular eye exams, especially for children, to detect any vision changes early on and manage them appropriately.

What are the signs of myopia?

Here are some common signs of myopia:

  • Blurry Distance Vision: This is the hallmark sign of myopia. Objects in the distance appear blurry or unclear, while nearby objects remain clear.
  • Squinting: People with myopia often squint their eyes to see distant objects more clearly. Squinting temporarily improves focus and clarity.
  • Headaches: Struggling to focus on distant objects can lead to eyestrain, resulting in headaches.
  • Difficulty in Night Vision: People with myopia might find it challenging to see clearly at night or in low light, affecting tasks like driving after dark.
  • Excessive Blinking or Rubbing Eyes: Children with myopia may excessively blink or rub their eyes. These could be signs of eye strain or fatigue.
  • Poor Academic Performance: In children, a sudden drop in academic performance, particularly in school subjects involving the board, may be an indicator of vision problems like myopia.
  • Sitting Closer to Screens or Holding Books Close: If you notice a child sitting too close to the television or holding a book very close to read, it might be a sign of myopia.

Can you fix myopia?

Though it is typically a lifelong condition, various treatments can correct or manage myopia effectively. Here are some of the most common methods:

  • Glasses or Contact Lenses: Glasses and contact lenses are the most common methods for correcting myopia. They refocus light onto the retina, allowing for clearer distance vision.
  • Orthokeratology: This involves fitting a series of rigid contact lenses to reshape the cornea's curvature gradually. While this treatment can temporarily correct myopia, it's not a permanent solution, and discontinuing lens wear can lead to the return of nearsightedness
  • Atropine Eye Drops: This treatment is typically used to slow the progression of myopia in children. Atropine eye drops relax the eye's focusing mechanism, potentially reducing myopia progression.
  • Refractive Surgery: Procedures like LASIK and PRK alter the shape of the cornea, allowing light entering the eye to be properly focused. These surgical methods can permanently correct myopia, although they come with potential risks and are therefore usually reserved for adults whose eyes have stopped growing.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Spending more time outdoors and reducing the amount of time spent on "near work" activities, like reading or screen time, can also help slow the progression of myopia in children.
  • Myopia Control Programs: These are specialised programs often aimed at children and adolescents to slow down the progression of myopia. They may include a combination of specific contact lenses, atropine eye drops, and lifestyle modifications

It's important to consult with an eye care professional to determine the best treatment or management option for your specific situation, as individual needs can vary greatly

How is myopia diagnosed?

Here are the common steps involved in diagnosing myopia:

  • Visual Acuity Test: This is usually the first test in an eye exam. It involves reading letters on a distance chart called the Snellen chart. Each eye is tested individually to evaluate how you can see at various distances.
  • Retinoscopy: In this preliminary way of assessing your eye's refractive error, you will be asked to focus on a target while the eye doctor shines a light in your eyes and flips lenses in a machine called a phoropter. By observing how the light reflects from your eyes, they can get a good approximation of your prescription
  • Refraction: This test fine-tunes the prescription determined by retinoscopy. You will look through the phoropter at an eye chart and provide feedback on which lenses give you the clearest vision
  • Slit Lamp Exam: This examination allows the eye doctor to see the structures at the front of your eye under magnification. Although it's primarily used to look for diseases, it also allows your doctor to observe physical indications of myopia, such as a longer-than-normal eyeball or a steeper-than-normal cornea
  • Eye Health Examination: This involves looking at the back of your eyes to ensure there are no associated pathologies, using an ophthalmoscope or other specialised instruments
  • Additional Tests: In some cases, additional tests may be conducted to assess the risk of progressive myopia, particularly in children. This may include tests to measure the length of the eye or to assess peripheral vision