What is myopia?

Young woman having an eye test with male optician

If you suffer from regular headaches or tired eyes, have trouble reading and watching television, or need to squint to see properly, you could be experiencing the common eye condition, myopia. Also known as near-sightedness or short-sightedness, myopia is an eye disorder caused by an irregularly-shaped eyeball or cornea (the clear, dome-shaped front surface of your eye). Making distant objects appear blurred, this vision problem can develop during adolescence and affects up to 1 in 3 people in the UK alone.

But are there steps you can take to avoid developing myopia? How can myopia be treated and what are the signs to look out for? Our expert opticians are here to help, covering the important facts that you need to know about the condition.

What causes myopia?

Myopia often occurs when the eyeball grows too long, preventing the light rays from refracting (bending) correctly. This means that the light coming through doesn't focus in front of the retina (light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye) - instead, light rays incorrectly focus in front of the retina. Simply put, your eye isn't able to produce a clear image of objects in the distance.

Myopia has the opposite effect of another refractive error, hyperopia (long-sightedness) that makes close objects appear blurred. It's possible to be diagnosed with astigmatism alongside myopia, where your cornea or lens is curved more steeply in one direction, causing your vision to be blurred at any distance. Myopia is usually genetic, but environmental and health factors such as constant visual stress and diabetes are believed to be additional risk factors.

There are three types of myopia:

  • Simple myopia: a mild type of the eye condition where the eyeball is otherwise healthy.
  • High myopia: a more severe type of myopia that occurs when someone develops nearsightedness at a young age but is left untreated and worsens as they get older. High myopia can increase the possibility of developing other conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts or retinal detachment.
  • Pathologic myopia: a rare type of the condition, also known as malignant or degenerative myopia. Pathologic myopia is usually genetic and worsens into adulthood, increasing your chances of experiencing abnormal blood vessel growth, retinal detachment and glaucoma.

Symptoms of myopia

People suffering from myopia can experience a range of symptoms, but the most common signs include:

  • Regular headaches
  • Eye fatigue/ eye strain
  • Difficulty when driving, particularly in the dark
  • Blurred vision when trying to focus on distant objects
  • Having to squint or partly close your eyes to see clearly

Myopia can be detected during puberty and even in the early school years. Some possible indications that your child might have this condition are:

  • Excessive blinking
  • Rubbing of the eyes
  • An unawareness of distant objects
  • Sitting close to the television or struggling to see the board in class
  • Squinting persistently

You or your child might get barely noticeable symptoms of myopia, which is why regular eye tests are so essential - a visit to an optometrist at least every two years is recommended. Detecting myopia as early as possible gives you the best chance of treating it and keeping its symptoms at bay. If you've been diagnosed with myopia, it's important to have regular examinations too, as wearing a prescription that is too weak for your eyes may also increase the development of myopia.

Young woman looking into the mirror while putting in contact lens

Myopia and contact lenses

Fortunately, those who suffer from myopia can find relief and experience clear vision, regardless of the distance, with the help of contact lenses. Matching your specific prescription and designed to assist your eyes by correctly focusing the light, contact lenses are an exceptionally convenient and cost-effective option, allowing you to go about your everyday activities with a wider field of view. Depending on your preferences, you can opt for daily disposables, two-weeklies and monthlies. Some of our most popular contact lenses include 1 Day Acuvue Moist, the everclear range, especially everclear ELITE, and Dailies Total 1.

To find the most suitable brand for you, speak to your optometrist, visit our eye care centre for more information, and contact our customer service if you have any questions on contact lenses.

Alternative myopia treatments

While contact lenses are the easiest way to correct myopia, choosing corrective eyeglasses is another route to take when rectifying your vision problems - and if your condition is mild, you can simply wear them for distance viewing like driving or watching television. Those with a more severe case can consider the permanent solution of refractive surgery or laser eye surgery. These processes, known as PRK or LASIK, are not suitable for children or teenagers, and entail the removal of a layer of corneal tissue to flatten the cornea or creating a tiny flap on the top of your cornea, sculpting the cornea and moving the flap back into place. Additionally, orthokeratology is a non-surgical option, where you'll need to wear hard gas permeable lenses at night to reshape the cornea over time.

Although myopia can't be prevented, some studies have found that you can slow its progression by making lifestyle changes and bettering your overall eye health. Wearing sunglasses and contact lenses with UV protection blocks dangerous light rays and ensuring you read and work using good lighting, while taking regular breaks from the screen, can help you reduce eye strain.

Myopia in children

Myopia in children can be developed anytime from 6 to 13 years old, and worsen as they grow older. To identify blurred distance vision or any other eye problems like amblyopia (lazy eye) and macular degeneration from as early as possible, you should take your child for annual eye tests. There's a strong link between myopia and the risk of eye conditions that could eventually lead to blindness, so that's another reason why it's important to monitor. Contact lenses, low dose Atropine eye drops and orthokeratology can also help correct myopia in children.