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What does “nearsighted” mean?

To be nearsighted means that you are literally “near-sighted” — you can see nearby objects clearly, but distant objects look blurry.

The medical term for nearsightedness is myopia.

A nearsighted person can usually focus on a book or computer screen that’s right in front of them, but will have difficulty seeing objects across the room.

It can be difficult or impossible to make out the writing on a whiteboard or the numbers on a clock unless they’re very close to you. Instead of clear, these objects — and anything farther away — will appear blurry.

In most cases, an eye becomes nearsighted when it grows too long from front to back. Nearsightedness can also occur when the shape of the cornea is too steep.

This causes light to focus in front of the retina (the thin layer of tissue in the back of the eye) instead of directly on it. This error in focusing position is what causes distant objects to appear blurry.

Some nearsighted people can go without prescription eyeglasses when they’re working with close-up objects, but need to put on glasses for other tasks. However, many people with nearsightedness wear glasses or contacts all the time.

In some parts of the world, nearsightedness is also known as “shortsightedness.” There is no difference between a person who is nearsighted and one who is “shortsighted.”

The opposite of nearsightedness is farsightedness, which causes nearby objects to appear blurry. If objects are blurry at all distances, it could mean that you have astigmatism, a common and treatable problem with the shape of the cornea.

There is currently no cure for nearsightedness. Fortunately, the blurry vision caused by nearsightedness can usually be fully corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses or refractive surgery, like LASIK.

Prescription eyeglasses are the most common treatment for myopia, but contacts can also correct virtually any level of nearsightedness.

Ortho-k contacts may be able to slow the progression of nearsightedness in children. LASIK, and other refractive surgery procedures like PRK, should be considered only after nearsightedness has stabilized. This generally happens sometime after age 18.

A growing problem

Nearsightedness is very common, and its prevalence has been growing rapidly in recent years.

Myopia currently affects more than 2 billion people worldwide, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report. In America, more than 40% of the population is nearsighted, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

If current trends continue, the WHO estimates that half of the global population will be nearsighted by the year 2050.

Uncorrected or undercorrected nearsightedness can sometimes lead to high myopia, a leading cause of vision loss throughout the world. High myopia increases the risk of retinal detachment, macular degeneration and other vision-threatening conditions.

Early diagnosis can slow or even stop a child’s progressive myopia. To find out if your child is becoming nearsighted, schedule a comprehensive eye exam with an eye doctor.

SEE RELATED: What is the difference between nearsightedness and farsightedness?

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