What Is Myopia (Nearsightedness)?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on April 01, 2024
9 min read

Is it hard to see distant objects, like highway signs, until you’re a few feet away, but easy to read a book up close? Chances are you have myopia, also known as nearsightedness. It’s a common condition that your eye doctor usually can fix with eyeglasses, contacts, or eye surgery.

The structure of your eye is to blame. When your eyeball is too long or the cornea -- the protective outer layer of your eye -- is too curved, the light that enters your eye won’t focus correctly. Images focus in front of the retina, the light-sensitive part of your eye, instead of directly on the retina. This causes blurred vision. Doctors call this a refractive error.

Anyone can get myopia. There are a few things that increase your chances of getting it:

  • You have a family member with myopia. If you have a parent with myopia, your risk goes up, and if both your parents have it, your risk is even higher. 
  • You spend lots of time doing close-up activities. If you read a lot or have a job that requires you to look at detail close up for long hours (such as craftwork or copyediting), your eyes are more likely to lose far vision.
  • You look at a screen for long periods. Studies show people -- especially kids -- who spend prolonged time on screens each day are at greater risk for nearsightedness.
  • You’re indoors most of the time. Spending time outside decreases your risk of myopia. 

You may not have any symptoms other than distant objects looking blurry. But myopia can also cause:

Kids with myopia may not know they aren’t seeing well far away, but they may:

  • Squint often
  • Not be aware of objects in the distance
  • Blink a lot
  • Rub their eyes frequently
  • Sit too close to the television
  • Have trouble reading words on display at the front of the classroom at school

Myopia has two general types: pathological and non-pathological. Non-pathological myopia is also called simple, or school, myopia. Pathological myopia is also called degenerative or malignant myopia. 

Simple or school myopia (non-pathological) 

This type of myopia usually starts in childhood or adolescence. After adolescence, your vision usually stabilizes and doesn’t get worse. When you have simple myopia, contact lenses or eyeglasses can restore clear vision  

Degenerative or malignant myopia (pathological) 

Also called pathological or malignant myopia, it is a rare type you usually inherit from your parents. Your eyeball gets longer very quickly and causes severe myopia, usually by the teenage or early adult years. This type of myopia can get worse far into adulthood. Besides making it hard to see things at a distance, you may have a higher chance of having a detached retina, abnormal blood vessel growth in the eye (choroid neovascularization), and glaucoma. Degenerative myopia is a common cause of legal blindness.

Nearsightedness is more severe in degenerative myopia than it is in simple myopia. With this type of myopia, wearing corrective lenses may not be enough to see clearly. 

Symptoms include:

  • Blind spots in your central vision

  • Straight lines appearing wavy 

  • Trouble with everyday tasks because of distorted vision 

  • Issues seeing contrast

Myopia bilateral

Myopia can happen in only one eye or in both. Bilateral myopia is a term your eye doctor uses when you’re nearsighted in both eyes.

An eye exam can show you if you have myopia. Glasses, contacts, or refractive surgery can usually correct the problem.

Nearsighted test

This simple test checks how well you can see things in detail from a distance. Your doctor will have you stand at a specific distance from an eye chart called a Snellen chart. This chart has rows of letters or symbols that gradually get smaller down the chart. 

Your doctor will have you cover one eye and read different rows until they can determine how sharp your vision is at a distance.

A phoropter test is a similar exam that has you look through a device with different lenses until you can see symbols or letters clearly. This helps your doctor know which prescription you need to correct your vision. 

When you have myopia, your prescription for glasses or contact lenses will be a negative number. The more negative the number, the stronger your lenses will be. For example, -3.00 is stronger than -2.50.

Myopia vs. hyperopia

Hyperopia (also called hypermetropia) is the term for farsightedness. This is the opposite of myopia. When you have hyperopia, distant objects are in focus, and objects closer to you are blurry. Hyperopia is less common than myopia.

Myopia and astigmatism

Astigmatism is a condition that makes the curve of your eye abnormal. Instead of perfectly round, like a basketball, an eye with astigmatism is egg- or oval-shaped. When you have astigmatism, your vision is blurry both far away and close up. Your eye doctor can treat it with corrective lenses or surgery.

What is the highest myopia?

Eye doctors measure your refractive error (how far off from correct your vision is) in diopters. Mild myopia is anything up to -1.5 D. A refractive error of -1.5 D to -6.0 D is considered severe myopia. High myopia is anything above -6.0 D. If your myopia is above -8.0 D, your myopia is considered pathological. 

Your prescription helps the eye focus light on your retina. That clears up your vision.

Myopia lenses

Your doctor can prescribe several different types of lenses to correct your vision when you have myopia, including:

Eyeglasses. Typically, doctors start with concave eyeglasses to correct myopia before moving to contact lenses. If your prescription is higher than -3.00 D, you may need high-index lenses, which are thinner and lighter than regular plastic lenses.

Contact lenses. Contact lenses fit onto the surface of your eye. There are two types: rigid, gas-permeable lenses and soft, water-absorbing lenses. In addition to your vision prescription, your doctor also needs to measure the curvature of your eye to correctly fit your contact lenses. Contact lenses may not be an option for you if your eyes are dry.

Eye surgery can improve your vision so much that you may no longer need to wear glasses or contacts. The most common procedures for myopia are:

  • Photorefractive keratectomy: Also called PRK, this surgery uses a laser to sculpt the middle layer of your cornea. That flattens the cornea’s curve and lets light rays focus closer to or on your retina.
  • LASIK: This is the most common surgery for myopia. The surgeon uses a laser or another tool to create a thin flap on the top layer of your cornea. They sculpt the cornea with another laser and move the flap back into place.
  • EVO Implantable Collamer Lens (ICL): Using a microscopic incision, a contact lens made of a soft, polymeric materials implanted into your eye between you natural lens and your iris. It helps refract light on the retina, producing clearer vision.

In the case of high myopia, special contacts or atropine eyedrops have been found to be effective in slowing the progression. In some cases, your doctor may suggest cataract or clear lens replacement surgery. 

Can myopia be cured?

Myopia doesn't have a cure, but the treatments for it are very effective and in many cases can restore your vision to 20/20. LASIK and other surgeries, although they restore vision to perfect in most cases, aren’t permanent cures. You’re likely to need some vision correction as you continue to age. 

Myopia runs in families and will probably start in childhood. Multifocal lens (glasses or contacts) and eye drops such as atropine, cyclopentolate, or pirenzepine ge can help slow the progression. Your eyes usually stop changing after your teenage years, but not always. Cases of myopia have been rising at an alarming rate in recent years. If you notice changes in your vision, get your eyes checked. See your eye doctor every year.


If you’re having any of the symptoms of nearsightedness, make an appointment for a regular eye exam with your eye doctor.  

Children’s vision can change drastically as they age. Doctors typically screen vision at yearly physical screenings from birth through adolescence. Once you reach your 20s, if you have overall good health and aren’t having problems with your vision, you should have an eye exam once in your 20s and twice in your 30s.

At age 40, you should have a comprehensive eye exam. Your eye doctor will tell you how often to get a vision screening after this appointment. After age 65, you should see an eye doctor at least every year or every other year.

Some eye symptoms can be a sign that your retina is detaching from the back of your eye and need immediate attention. Seek emergency care for your eyes if you:

  • Suddenly see floaters (tiny specks or lines drifting through your field of vision) 
  • Have flashes of light in one or both eyes
  • Have a curtain-like gray shadow covering all or part of your field of vision
  • See a shadow in your outer or side vision (peripheral vision) 

There are a few complications that can happen when you have myopia. These include:

  • Problems in school. If your child has myopia that isn’t corrected, they might fall behind in reading or other academic skills. This can affect their attitude toward school, social interactions, and even their self-esteem.
  • Lower quality of life. If your vision is keeping you from doing the things you love, or even just the things you need to operate independently, it can affect your quality of life.
  • Eyestrain. As you strain to see, your eyes can become tired and you may have headaches.
  • Safety issues. Sharp vision is important for tasks such as driving, operating equipment, and certain jobs. When you can’t see well, you put yourself and others at risk.
  • Additional eye problems. If your myopia is severe, you’re at risk of a detached retina, glaucoma, cataracts, and other eye conditions.

You can promote good eye health when you have myopia. Heed these tips:

  • See your eye doctor regularly. Your eye doctor can test your vision to see if you need a stronger prescription. 
  • Protect your eyes from the sun. Seek out shade, or wear sunglasses if you’re outdoors in bright light.
  • Wear eye gear during sports. Protective glasses can correct vision while shielding your eyes from injury as you play sports.
  • Read in proper lighting. Any time you are doing work or reading up close, make sure the lighting is good enough to see well.
  • Take screen breaks. Every 20 minutes, look at least 20 feet away from your screen for at least 20 seconds. This is the rest your eyes need to continue working well.
  • Take care of your overall health. Eat healthy foods, treat other health conditions, get regular exercise, and don’t smoke.

Myopia or nearsightedness is a condition that keeps you from clearly seeing things far away. You may have mild myopia or severe myopia that continues to get worse over time. An eye doctor can examine your eyes and help come up with a treatment such as lenses or surgery that can correct your vision. Regular vision screenings can help catch this condition early so you can treat it.

How can you prevent myopia?

While you can’t really keep myopia from happening, you can practice healthy eye habits to be sure myopia isn’t worsened quickly or you don’t increase your risks. Some studies show that if kids spend more time outside, they lower their chances of getting myopia. 

How can you cure myopia naturally and effectively?

Myopia doesn't have a cure, but if you see your eye doctor regularly, follow your treatment plan, and practice eye-friendly habits such as screen breaks, good diet and exercise, and using eye protection, you can keep your vision clearer.