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Nearsightedness, shortsightedness and myopia: What do they mean?

nearsightedness diagnosis written on paper next to pair of eyeglasses

What do nearsighted and shortsighted mean?

The words nearsighted and shortsighted are common ways to describe having myopia. Myopia is a refractive error that makes distant objects look blurry. Nearsighted and shortsighted people have difficulty seeing objects across the room. However, they can usually see nearby objects more easily. 

If you have myopia, you may have trouble reading street signs or the numbers on a clock if they are far away. Distant objects look blurry, but nearby objects are usually clearer and easier to see. This is where the word nearsighted comes from.

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. In rare cases, it can be due to the position of the cornea and lens relative to each other.

Each of these factors can cause light to focus in front of the retina instead of directly on it. This is what causes distant objects to appear blurry.

Some nearsighted people only need prescription eyeglasses when they drive or watch television. However, many nearsighted people need to wear glasses or contacts all the time. This depends on how severe the nearsightedness is. A myopia prescription of -6.00D is considered high. 

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

There is currently no cure for nearsightedness. But fortunately, the blurry vision caused by nearsightedness can usually be corrected. Eyeglasses, contact lenses and refractive surgery are all effective ways to correct myopia.

Prescription eyeglasses are the most common method for correcting for myopia. Contact lenses are also a great option. They can correct nearly any level of nearsightedness.

Ortho-k contacts can temporarily correct myopia. They can also slow myopia progression in children

LASIK and other refractive surgery procedures are only options after myopia has stabilized. For about 50 percent of people, this happens around age 15. Myopia stabilizes for almost everyone by age 24.

A growing problem

Nearsightedness is very common, and it has grown much more common in recent years. More than 2.6 billion people worldwide now have myopia. In the U.S., more than 40% of the population is nearsighted.

If current trends continue, researchers estimate that half of the global population will have myopia by the year 2050.

Uncorrected or undercorrected nearsightedness can sometimes lead to high myopia. High myopia is a major cause of permanent vision loss throughout the world. It can lead to retinal detachment, myopic 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?

Borish's clinical refraction. Benjamin WJ & Borish IM. St. Louis Mo: Butterworth Heinemann/Elsevier. 2006.

World report on vision. World Health Organization. October 2019.

The impact of myopia and high myopia. Report of the Joint World Health Organization–Brien Holden Vision Institute Global Scientific Meeting on Myopia. 2017.

Myopia: A close look at efforts to turn back a growing problem. National Eye Institute. October 2017.

Myopia stabilization and associated factors among participants in the correction of myopia evaluation trial (COMET). Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science. December 2013.

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