Myopia (Shortsightedness)

Shortsightedness, A.K.A. myopia. In myopia, it becomes difficult to see distant objects clearly. In mild and moderate levels of myopia, close objects remain clear but in high levels it may be difficult to see anything clearly unless it is held very close.

What causes myopia?

In myopia, the eyeball is too long or the cornea (the clear window at the front of the eye) too curved so that light entering the eye is not focused correctly on the retina (the back of the eye). The causes of myopia are thought to be partly hereditary and partly environmental with high levels of close work causing stress to the visual system. It is not possible to identify those individuals who are at risk before myopia develops.

What are the symptoms of myopia?

Myopia commonly starts in the teenage years when the most usual presenting symptom is blurred vision affecting the ability of the child to see the board at school. Some young adults start a little later and commonly notice problems when learning to drive or seeing Teletext on the television (or being unable to read the questions on Who wants to be a Millionaire?)

How can myopia be managed?

Initially most myopes (shortsighted people) are prescribed spectacles for distance eg the board at school, television and cinema. Many people need them for driving. It is recommended that regular 6 monthly check-ups are scheduled as myopia can progress rapidly in some individuals, often paralleling the onset of puberty or rapid growth spurts. If the myopia is mild to moderate, it is recommended that spectacles are used only for distance and removed for close work and reading as it is thought that there may be a bio-feedback mechanism which works in some individuals to hasten the worsening of the myopia if spectacles are worn for close work and reading unnecessarily. Recent research has shown that it is necessary to watch the prescription carefully and change even small amounts because the rate of change of myopia may speed up if the vision is not kept clear.

Can anything be done to stop myopia getting worse?

Unfortunately most myopic children will progress to become more myopic over the teenage years and into their 20's. Patients with later onset myopia may find their vision does not stabilize until their 30's. There is some evidence that rapidly progressing myopic patients may benefit from using bifocal or varifocal lenses rather than single vision lenses if the prescription is moderate to high and spectacles have to be worn all the time. Recent research confirms that fitting gas permeable contact lenses tends to slow down the rate of progression, although soft lens wear does not. All under 16's and under 19's in full time education are eligible for free NHS tests and vouchers towards the cost of spectacles when the prescription changes. Please ask any member of staff if you need any more information.

At what age can a shortsighted patient be fitted with contact lenses?

Age is no barrier to contact lens wear. We have several primary school children in the practice who successfully wear contact lenses. Fitting teenagers is a very rewarding part of contact lens practice because it can really help those who are self conscious in spectacles or who simply find them impractical for sport. We have lots of children who wear spectacles part-time and contact lenses for other occasions - and to be honest, are extremely good with cleaning and looking after their lenses, putting some of my adult patients to shame!