Myopia, or nearsightedness, is one of the most common eyesight problems. People with this condition can't focus their eyesight on far-away objects, which makes distant objects appear blurry, while close objects still appear sharp, according to Mayo Clinic.
Per past research, it’s estimated that nearsightedness affects 40 percent of all people in the United States.

Causes and Risk Factors for Nearsightedness

Most commonly, nearsightedness is an anatomical issue, resulting from an eyeball that's too long, which prevents light from focusing directly on the retina (the "screen" at the back of your eye). Nearsightedness can also be caused by a cornea (the clear layer at the front of the eye) that's not shaped correctly.

These two problems prevent light from focusing directly on the retina. Instead, light focuses in front of the retina, which makes distant objects appear blurry.
Although researchers still don't know exactly why some people develop nearsightedness while others don't, it's possible that the condition may be genetic. If one or both of your parents is nearsighted, your chances of having the problem are higher than those of someone whose parents aren't nearsighted, notes the American Optometric Association (AOA).
Some research suggests that spending too much time indoors may be a cause of increasing myopia rates among children, according to an article published in March 2015 in the journal Nature.
The condition may also emerge in adulthood, due to factors such as visual stress (which can be caused by close-up activities such as reading or computer work), notes the Cleveland Clinic.

Duration of Nearsightedness

Myopia tends to emerge in school-age children, according to the AOA, and continues progressing as the eye grows, until around the age of 20.For most people with myopia, the condition stabilizes by age 20, but in some cases it continues advancing as people age, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Treatment and Medication Options for Nearsightedness

The simplest treatment for nearsightedness is wearing corrective lenses, either eyeglasses or contact lenses. Another treatment option is surgery. According to the Mayo Clinic, three common surgeries include:

LASIK (Laser-Assisted In-Situ Keratomileusis) In this procedure, an ophthalmologist first cuts a round, hinged flap in your cornea.

Using an excimer laser (which, unlike other lasers, produces no heat), the doctor will remove layers from the center of your cornea to change its shape and improve your vision.

LASEK (Laser-Assisted Subepithelial Keratectomy) In this procedure, the doctor works only on the cornea's thin outer layer (epithelium).

After creating a flap, the doctor then uses an excimer laser to reshape the outer layer of the cornea.

PRK (Photorefractive Keratectomy) In this procedure, which is similar to LASEK, the epithelium is completely removed by the doctor.

After using the laser to reshape the cornea, the doctor does not replace the epithelium, which grows back and conforms to the new shape of the cornea.

Complications from these surgeries may include:
  • Under- or overcorrection of your original vision problem
  • Vision problems, such as halos or other effects around bright lights
  • Dry eye
  • Infection
  • Corneal scarring
  • Vision loss (in rare cases)

Medication Options

A study published in 2017 in the journal Strabismus revealed that daily doses of low concentration atropine eye drops can effectively prevent the onset of nearsightedness, without causing significant side effects.The researchers aren't sure exactly how atropine affects myopia, but they hypothesize that the medication may stimulate the release of dopamine in the eye.
Clinical trials are currently looking at the effectiveness and safety of atropine drops for children. Research is ongoing but it appears that low-dose drops may help slow the progression of myopia in kids.

Nonmedical Therapies

Orthokeratology is a nonsurgical option for treating myopia. Also known as Ortho-k or corneal refractive therapy (CRT), it consists of wearing rigid contact lenses designed to gradually flatten the curvature of the cornea. As a result, the eye changes how it focuses light. The contacts are worn for brief periods of several hours — when you’re sleeping, for example. During the day, the contacts are removed, and vision may be temporarily clear.
People with myopia due to visual stress can also use vision therapy, reports the AOA. Through various eye exercises, a poor ability to focus can be improved, and clearer distance vision regained.

Prevention of Nearsightedness 

The AOA notes that children who are at high risk of progressive myopia (due to family history, early age of onset, and long periods of close-up work) may be able to slow the progression with bifocal glasses or contact lenses, orthokeratology, eye drops, or a combination of these.Results of a clinical trial funded by the National Eye Institute and published in August 2020 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that myopia progression was slower in children who wore multifocal contact lenses.
Clinicians in Taiwan have identified spending time outdoors as a preventive measure for myopia in children, according to research in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
You can maintain your eye health by avoiding or limiting activities that lead to eye strain, such as time spent on digital devices.

Research and Statistics: Who Has Myopia?

A widening body of research indicates that myopia is becoming increasingly prevalent in the United States and around the world, according to the National Eye Institute. In the coming decades, the upward trend is projected to continue.
According to the AOA, the number of children with myopia is increasing: One-quarter of parents have a nearsighted child, and about 75 percent of nearsighted children got diagnosed between ages 3 and 12.

Related Conditions of Nearsightedness

High Myopia This rare, inherited type of high-degree nearsightedness occurs when a child’s eyeballs grow longer than they should or the cornea is too steep. Depending on the severity, high myopia can be corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses, and in some cases, surgery. It may raise the risk for cataracts, detached retinas, and glaucoma later in life, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Degenerative Myopia This form of myopia is relatively rare but, as noted above, it’s a leading cause of legal blindness, as it damages the retina.

Resources We Love

Favorite Orgs for Essential Myopia Info

National Eye Institute (NEI)

The NEI gives readers detailed background information on myopia, from risk factors to prevention including a description of what exactly goes wrong in eye development to cause the condition. The site also presents current research around myopia, including its own National Institutes of Health–funded studies and clinical trials.

Mayo Clinic

A nonprofit with a broad reach into clinical practice, education, and research, the Mayo Clinic provides extensive, patient-friendly background on myopia. Treatments for nearsightedness are presented clearly and are regularly updated, so readers will find actionable guidance. Those who have upcoming ophthalmologist visits can also read advice on how to prepare and what questions to ask the doctor.

American Optometric Association (AOA)

The AOA represents more than 44,000 doctors of optometry in the United States, and is an authority on eye care and optometry. The website covers the essentials of myopia, such as diagnosis and various treatments.

Additional reporting by Sarah Amandolare.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • Nearsightedness: Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. April 2, 2020.
  • Vitale S, Sperduto RD, Ferris III FL. Increased Prevalence of Myopia in the United States Between 1971-1972 and 1999-2004. JAMA Ophthalmology. December 2009.
  • Nearsightedness (Myopia). National Eye Institute. September 8, 2020.
  • Myopia (Nearsightedness). American Optometric Association.
  • The Myopia Boom. Nature. March 18, 2015.
  • Myopia (Nearsightedness). Cleveland Clinic. July 14, 2020.
  • Nearsightedness: Diagnosis and Treatment. Mayo Clinic. April 2, 2020.
  • LASIK Eye Surgery: About. Mayo Clinic. November 8, 2019.
  • Tay SU, Farzavandi S, Tan D. Interventions to Reduce Myopia Progression in Children. Strabismus. February 6, 2017.
  • Four Alternatives to Eyeglasses for Children. American Academy of Ophthalmology. June 25, 2020.
  • Multifocal Contact Lenses Slow Progression of Myopia in Children. National Eye Institute. August 11, 2020.
  • Wu PC, Tsai CL, Wu HL, et al. Outdoor Activity During Class Recess Reduces Myopia Onset and Progression in School Children. Ophthalmology. May 2013.
  • Myopia: A Close Look at Efforts to Turn Back a Growing Problem. National Eye Institute. October 3, 2017.
  • With Childhood Myopia Rates on the Rise, the American Optometric Association Highlights the Importance of Early Intervention through Annual Eye Exams. American Optometric Association. March 1, 2019.
  • Nearsightedness (Myopia) Data and Statistics. National Eye Institute. July 17, 2019.
  • Proportion of Patients Who Had an Eye Exam in Selected Year. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Vision and Eye Health Surveillance System.
  • Luong, T, Shu, Y-H, et al. Racial and Ethnic Differences in Myopia Progression in a Large, Diverse Cohort of Pediatric Patients. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science. November 2020.


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