Nearsightedness, or myopia, is the most common refractive error of the eye, and it has become more prevalent in recent years. In fact, a recent study by the National Eye Institute (NEI) shows the prevalence of myopia grew from 25 percent of the U.S. population (ages 12 to 54) in 1971-1972 to a whopping 41.6 percent in 1999-2004.
Though the exact cause for this increase in nearsightedness among Americans is unknown, many eye doctors feel it has something to do with eye fatigue from computer use and other extended near vision tasks, coupled with a genetic predisposition for myopia.
What Causes Myopia?
Myopia occurs when the eyeball is too long, relative to the focusing power of the cornea and lens of the eye. This causes light rays to focus at a point in front of the retina, rather than directly on its surface.
Nearsightedness also can be caused by the cornea and/or lens being too curved for the length of the eyeball. In some cases, myopia is due to a combination of these factors. Myopia typically begins in childhood and you may have a higher risk if your parents are nearsighted. In most cases, nearsightedness stabilizes in early adulthood but sometimes it continues to progress with age.
Nearsightedness can be corrected with glasses, contact lenses or refractive surgery. Depending on the degree of your myopia, you may need to wear your glasses or contact lenses all the time or only when you need very clear distance vision, like when driving, seeing a chalkboard or watching a movie.
If you're nearsighted, the first number ("sphere") on your eyeglasses prescription or contact lens prescription will be preceded by a minus sign (–). The higher the number, the more nearsighted you are.
Refractive surgery can reduce or even eliminate your need for glasses or contacts. The most common procedures are performed with an excimer laser.
Then there's orthokeratology, a non-surgical procedure where you wear special rigid gas permeable (RGP or GP) contact lenses at night that reshape your cornea while you sleep. When you remove the lenses in the morning, your cornea temporarily retains the new shape, so you can see clearly during the day without glasses or contact lenses. Orthokeratology and a related GP contact lens procedure called corneal refractive therapy (CRT) have been proven effective at temporarily correcting mild to moderate amounts of myopia. Both procedures are good alternatives to surgery for individuals who are too young for LASIK or are not good candidates for refractive surgery for other reasons.
Implantable lenses known as phakic IOLs are another surgical option for correcting nearsightedness, particularly for individuals with high amounts of myopia or thinner-than-normal corneas that could increase their risk of complications from LASIK or other laser vision correction procedures.
Phakic IOLs work like contact lenses, except they are surgically placed within the eye and typically are permanent, which means no maintenance is needed. Unlike IOLs used in cataract surgery, phakic IOLs do not replace the eye's natural lens, which is left intact.
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