Focusing In On Common Vision Problems

Do you squint? Struggle with nighttime driving? Have trouble seeing items up close? You may have one of these common visions problems: myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), astigmatism or presbyopia.

Known as refractive errors, these are the most frequent eye problems in the country.

Diagnosing vision problems is important for quality of life, but it also can reduce your risk for more serious vision problems.

Are You Nearsighted, Farsighted or Both?

Your eyes collect visual information for your brain. Vision occurs when your cornea (clear, dome-shaped surface covering your eye) bends incoming light rays (refraction) as they pass through your eye. The light is then focused onto your retina, which converts light into messages that travel to your brain.

In refractive errors, the shape of the eye prevents light from focusing onto the retina. These errors can include the length of the eyeball, changes in the shape of the cornea or aging of the eye lens.

  • Myopia (nearsightedness). Nearsighted people have clear near vision but poor distance vision. About 42 percent of Americans ages 12 to 54 are nearsighted.
  • Hyperopia (farsightedness). Farsighted people have clear distance vision but poor near vision. Vision can be blurry at any distance in more severe cases. Hyperopia affects about 5 to 10 percent of the population.
  • Astigmatism. With astigmatism, the cornea is curved more like a football instead of the normal round shape, and some areas are steeper or more rounded than others. This can cause images to appear blurry and stretched out. Some people experience distorted vision at all distances. 
  • Presbyopia. Typically developing between age 40 and 50, presbyopia is the inability to focus up close – like reading a book or medicine bottle. Aging affects the ability of the eye lens to focus light directly onto the retina. You can have presbyopia and another type of refractive error at the same time.

Diagnosing vision problems is important for quality of life, but it also can reduce your risk for more serious vision problems. For example, if you have high myopia, you may be at increased risk of cataract and glaucoma.

Eyeglasses, Contacts or Refractive Surgery?

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Refractive errors can be corrected by prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses, which refocus light onto the retina. Refractive surgery also is an option in some cases.

Discuss surgical options with an eye care professional. Like all surgeries, some risk is involved. The most common types of refractive surgery are LASIK (laser-assisted surgery) and PRK (photorefractive keratectomy). Both permanently change the shape of the cornea to better focus light onto the retina.

Prescription eyeglasses are the simplest and safest means of correcting presbyopia. Reading glasses, which do not require a prescription, can also help.

When to See an Eye Care Professional

If you notice any changes in your vision, see an eye care professional. Getting a comprehensive dilated eye exam is one of the best things you can do to ensure optimal eye health and vision. Dilating the pupil helps eye care professionals see a larger portion of the retina.

Vision changes and symptoms may include:

  • Headaches
  • Eyestrain
  • Squinting
  • Distorted or blurred vision at any distance
  • Difficulty driving at night
  • Difficulty reading small print or having to hold reading material farther than arm’s distance
  • Problems seeing objects that are close to you

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a baseline eye disease screening at age 40. 

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