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What is myopia?

Man looking through lens of eyeglasses

Myopia (short-sightedness) is the inability to see things clearly unless they're relatively close to your eyes. Also called shortsightedness or nearsightedness, myopia is the most common refractive error among children and young adults.

Myopia occurs when the eye grows too long from front to back, causing light to come to a focus in front of the retina instead of directly on it. Other contributing factors include a cornea that is too curved for the length of the eyeball or a lens inside the eye that is too thick.

Distant objects and your driving vision will be blurry if you have myopia, but you still will be able to see nearby objects clearly. This is why the condition is also called "short-sightedness."

Myopia typically starts to develop during childhood and can progress gradually or rapidly. The most common symptoms of myopia are squinting, eye strain, headaches and fatigue.

Shortsightedness is the most common vision problem. Currently, about 1.5 billion people worldwide (nearly a quarter of the global population) are shortsighted. Myopia is especially prevalent in East Asia, where 70 to 80 percent of the residents of some countries are affected.

And the rate of myopia worldwide is increasing rapidly. It's estimated that by the year 2050, roughly half of the world population will be shortsighted.

Researchers aren't sure why myopia is becoming so common, but many opticians attribute it to eye fatigue from close-up work including reading, studying, using computers and portable electronic devices (including tablets and smartphones) and reduced time spent outdoors.

Myopia also tends to run in families. Researchers have discovered at least 24 genetic risk factors for myopia.

Myopia can be corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses, which refocus light on the retina. Once shortsighted children become young adults and their vision stabilises, myopia can be permanently treated with refractive surgery. LASIK is the most popular surgical procedure to correct shortsightedness.

If you or your children experience the signs or symptoms of myopia, schedule a comprehensive eye examination with an optician near you.

SEE RELATED: Can myopia be cured?

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