Do you struggle to read the text in books or on your computer, or have to squint your eyes to read street signs? You could be dealing with myopia or hyperopia—fancy ways of saying “nearsightedness” and “farsightedness,” respectively. If you’re struggling with either of these conditions, you’re certainly not alone. Nearsightedness affects over 40 percent of Americans, while farsightedness affects about 10 percent of Americans. In this article, we’ll be discussing everything you need to know about these two vision problems, including tips for reducing your risk. Let’s get started!
What is the difference between nearsightedness and farsightedness?
Nearsightedness and farsightedness are both classified as refractive errors—a type of vision problem that makes it hard to see clearly. While they are categorized as the same type of problem, they are essentially opposites of each other. Let’s get clear about the differences between these two conditions:
Nearsightedness (myopia): People who have nearsightedness can see close-up objects clearly while distant objects appear blurry.
Farsightedness (hyperopia): People who have farsightedness have the opposite problem—close objects appear out of focus while distant objects are clear.
Despite their difference, these vision problems can share common symptoms including:
- Squinting or straining to see clearly
- Fatigued, “tired” eyes
Is it better to be nearsighted or farsighted?
One is not necessarily better than the other. Whether it’s “better” to be near or farsighted depends on your lifestyle and occupation. If you need to see close-up details often, such as while doing office work, it might be easier to be nearsighted. On the flip side, if you need to see distant objects often, such as while driving, being farsighted might be easier. Unfortunately, however, you don’t have a choice in which one you acquire and will need to learn to take the appropriate steps to correct your specific condition and prevent it from worsening.
What happens in the eye to cause nearsightedness and farsightedness?
Nearsightedness and farsightedness occur when the shape of your eye prevents light from focusing correctly on your retina. The eye’s ability to refract (or focus) light sharply on the retina to see clearly are anatomically caused by three primary factors:
Eye length: If the eye is too long, light is focused before it reaches the retina, causing nearsightedness. If the eye is too short, light is not focused by the time it reaches the retina, causing farsightedness.
Curvature of the lens: If the lens is too steeply curved in relation to the length of the eye and the curvature of the cornea, the result is nearsightedness. If the lens is too flat, the result is farsightedness.
Aging of the lens: As we age, the lens of the eye becomes less flexible. This reduces the eye’s ability to change focus from objects that are far away to objects that are close and vice versa. That is why typically once we reach the age of around 40, the focusing system fatigues and most people begin to need glasses to see at near.
Why do these vision problems occur?
Researchers are not exactly sure what provokes these changes in the eye, but there’s ample evidence that the following factors play a role:
Genetics: These conditions have a strong genetic component, meaning that hereditary factors control the growth and development of the eye. In fact, more than 150 myopia-prone genes have been identified in recent years. One such gene alone may not cause the conditions, but people who carry several of these genes have a much higher risk of developing the conditions.
Visual stress: The development of these conditions likely also depends on how a person uses their eyes. For example, long hours spent reading or focusing on a computer screen, tablet, or smartphone is hypothesized to increase the risk of nearsightedness and progression of the condition. A review of 25 years of research found that people who spend a lot of time doing demanding, close-up work, such as reading or using a computer, have an increased risk of myopia.
How can these problems be corrected?
Nearsightedness and farsightedness are common problems that are routinely corrected with prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses. Glasses and contact lenses can be worn constantly or they can be used on an as-needed basis for people who only experience difficulty seeing at certain times, such as nighttime. People can also opt to receive refractive surgery, such as LASIK or PRK surgery, although the conditions may come back after several years.
Are there ways to lessen the risk of developing these conditions?
While these conditions can typically be well-managed through the above-mentioned options, you might be wondering what you can do to lessen your risk of developing these vision problems in the first place or prevent them from getting worse. With more than half of the world predicted to be nearsighted by 2050, you have to wonder what about modern society is causing the skyrocketing rates of vision problems. These are very important questions! Here are some things you can do to mitigate your risk of vision issues, slow the progression of vision issues if you already have them, and keep your eyes strong and healthy overall.
Reduce screen time and use blue light blocking glasses
Is it a coincidence that nearsightedness is exploding as adults and children are spending more time than ever looking at screens? Maybe, but probably not. In South Korea, for example, a staggering 96.5 percent of 19-year-old males are nearsighted!
To protect your eyes, try to minimize your time spent on screens and take breaks every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away from you for 20 seconds (the 20/20/20 rule).
Additionally, invest in a high-quality pair of blue light glasses. Certain eye problems have been linked to blue light exposure from digital devices such as cell phones, tablets, laptops, and computers. Blue light is known to cause eye strain, headaches, and disruptions in your body’s sleep cycle. These glasses have yellow-tinted lenses that block blue light, which can ease digital eye strain by increasing contrast.
Spend time outdoors
Another factor that could be contributing to the rise of vision issues is too much time spent indoors. Sunlight stimulates the production of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, which is a factor in the elongation of the eyes. Researchers theorize that more sun exposure leads to more dopamine production and consequently, less elongation of the eyeballs and a reduced likelihood of developing nearsightedness. With this in mind, make an effort to go for a walk, work outside, or take your lunch break outdoors.
Live a healthy lifestyle
Just like any other part of your body, the health of your eyes depends on your lifestyle. That means that you should make an effort to eat healthy, balanced meals that include a lot of fruits and veggies (dark, leafy greens are particularly good for eye health!), drink enough water, get regular eye exams, and wear sunglasses if you’re outside for longer periods of time.
The bottom line
Nearsightedness (not being able to see at a distance) and farsightedness (not being able to see close up) are on the rise in the U.S. and many other countries. While these conditions do have a genetic component, researchers are discovering that environmental factors may play a significant role as well. Apply the tips discussed above to protect your eyes, reduce your risk of developing vision problems, prevent worsening of vision problems, and support the overall health of your eyes.