What causes myopia? Can it be fixed? Ophthalmologist Dr Colin Chan explains.
You may know it as near-sightedness or short-sightedness. If you suffer from it, you’ll know it’s a nuisance. It’s called ‘myopia’, and it’s the main cause of objects in the distance becoming blurry.
However, if you suffer from myopia, you probably don’t care what it’s called. You may have noticed from an early age that your eyesight became progressively blurry, until you couldn’t see the board at school or make out friends in the distance. Myopia usually progresses in the teen years and then levels out around the age of 24-26.
What causes myopia?
In a perfect world, your eye would be flawlessly round, like a rubber ball. In the real world, not everything is perfect – around 30% of people are born with an eye that is more oval. If this is you, it means that the light that enters your cornea (the surface of your eye) doesn’t quite focus directly on the retina (at the back of your eye). Rather, light rays focus just in front of the retina, making objects in the distance blurry.
If you do have myopia, chances are you didn’t really understand what was happening until it had well and truly progressed. You might have suffered from lots of headaches, been famous for rubbing your eyes when reading, or squinting when watching TV.
If so, that trip to your optometrist when you were diagnosed with myopia was the defining moment. And your life would have changed with your first pair of glasses. In fact, most kids who have myopia are relieved when it is finally diagnosed – we even see an improvement in their results at school. If you have children yourself, think about a trip to the optometrist for a check-up if they have any of these signs.
There is not much you or anyone else can do to stop myopia from developing. A few studies suggest that spending more time outdoors and away from the computer may help. There are, however, a number of ways to treat it.
“Laser eye surgery changes the shape of the front of the eye, so that light focuses on the back of the eye.”
How to treat myopia
In the majority of cases, glasses will be the first ‘treatment’. However, because myopia progresses and only settles down once you reach your 20s, you will need regular visits to the optometrist to change your prescription. Styles change, too – you may replace frames on a regular basis for fashion reasons.
Most people progress to contact lenses in their teens. Although there is no physical reason why children shouldn’t wear contact lenses, common sense says they should wait until they are old enough to be responsible for their care. There are now a myriad of contact lens options to choose from – your optometrist will run you through your choices and advise you on what’s right for you.
Laser eye surgery
Many people seek an alternative to contact lenses or glasses to correct their myopia. Laser eye surgery can be the solution for those with a stable prescription – this usually happens around the age of 20.
My patients often ask how laser eye surgery works. I’ll take you back to the ‘perfect world’– the laser changes the shape of the front of the eye, so that light focuses on the back of the eye.
The other question I’m asked is – is it safe? Laser eye surgery is one of the safest elective surgeries you can have but no surgery is completely without risk. It is important to minimise any risk by choosing a good surgeon who uses modern technology and experienced staff.
I’ve had laser eye surgery myself and never looked back. And like an entire generation of people, I have successfully moved thorough life after laser eye surgery from myopia, to presbyopia. But that’s another story.
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