If you’re short-sighted, you can see close objects clearly, but distant objects will appear blurred. You may find that you narrow your eyes – or squint – to make far away objects seem clearer. This can give you headaches.
Young children may not realise they have blurred vision. Signs that your child may be short-sighted include:
- squinting (narrowing their eyes)
- rubbing their eyes or blinking a lot
- sitting close to the TV
- having trouble seeing the whiteboard at school
Short-sightedness progresses until the eyes stop growing at around the age of 20. The severity of short-sightedness then usually levels off but it can also get worse as you get older.
If you’re struggling to see things in the distance, book an appointment with an optometrist to have your eyes tested. An optometrist is a registered health professional who examines eyes, tests sight and dispenses glasses and contact lenses.
To diagnose short-sightedness, your optometrist will ask you to read a chart (called a Snellen chart) from a distance of six metres. The chart has large letters at the top and small letters at the bottom. If you're short-sighted, you won't be able to read the smaller letters on the chart.
Children can have an eye test using different sized pictures instead of letters.
It’s important to have regular eye tests to diagnose any problems with your sight. Your optometrist will also look for any problems with your general health, such as diabetes, that can be picked up by examining your eyes. Most people should have an eye examination every two years, even if they don’t have any problems with their sight. Ask your optometrist how often you need one.
You may need to have eye examinations more often as you get older or if you have a:
- condition that may affect your sight, such as diabetes or glaucoma
- close relative who has a condition that may affect his or her sight, such as diabetes or glaucoma
Eye examinations are usually quick and painless and, for some people, they are free. Ask your optometrist for more information.
Glasses and contact lenses
Short-sightedness can usually be corrected by wearing glasses or contact lenses. Concave lenses – in glasses or contact lenses – will help focus light more precisely on the retina so that you can see distant objects.
Children or teenagers who develop short-sightedness may need to change their glasses or contact lenses often. This may be every six months to a year until their short-sightedness stops changing.
If you’re mildly short-sighted, you may only need to wear glasses or contact lenses occasionally, such as when you’re driving or watching TV.
If you have contact lenses, you will need to keep them clean and some types need to be cared for in a particular way. A popular type of contact lens is daily disposables which you wear for one day and then throw away. You don’t need to clean or store these lenses.
Glasses are usually recommended for children. They can also be more suitable than contact lenses for older people. Your optometrist will discuss with you what options are available.
There are a number of operations to correct short-sightedness. Some of these are listed below.
Laser refractive surgeryIn laser refractive surgery, your surgeon will make small alterations to your cornea using a laser, so that light rays focus correctly onto your retina. To treat short-sightedness, he or she will make the centre of your cornea flatter by removing more tissue from the centre than from the edge.
Laser eye surgery works very well for most people. However, there is a chance you won’t get the improvement in your eyesight that you expect and so may need further treatment.
There are different types of laser refractive surgery and there are some general risks associated with them. These include:
- a return of some of your short-sightedness after time
- an infection in your cornea
- symptoms of a dry eye
- distorted vision
- problems with the flap that is made in your cornea during certain types of laser eye surgery
If you choose to have laser refractive surgery, it’s important that you consider the benefits and risks of the operation before you go ahead. You should also make sure that it’s carried out by a trained ophthalmologist. This is a doctor who specialises in eye health, including eye surgery. Ask your optometrist or GP for advice about finding an ophthalmologist.
Laser refractive surgery isn’t suitable for everyone. Your ophthalmologist will discuss with you whether it’s an option for you.
Intraocular lens implantAn intraocular lens implant is an artificial lens that is placed inside your eye. It takes over the role of your natural lens.
There are two main types of lens implant. There are those where you keep the natural lens of your eye. This is called a ‘phakic’ contact lens implant or implantable contact lens (ICL). The other type involves replacing the natural lens of your eye with an intraocular lens in an operation.
If you’re severely short-sighted, some types of laser refractive surgery may not be suitable and phakic ICLs may be a better option. Laser surgery is permanent and can’t be reversed, but it’s possible to remove or replace a phakic ICL.
Intracorneal ringsAnother treatment for short-sightedness is intracorneal rings, which are designed to flatten your cornea. This is a relatively new procedure and the possible complications are not yet fully known.
Radial keratotomyIn this operation, your surgeon makes several tiny cuts in your cornea to flatten it and make light rays fall more precisely on your retina. This is an older treatment and it has largely been replaced by laser surgery.
The exact reasons why you may develop short-sightedness aren’t fully understood at present. However, it’s more likely if you:
- were born prematurely
- have parents who are short-sighted
- read a lot or do lots of close-up work, such as sewing or using a computer
- have another health condition that can affect your eyes, such as Marfan’s syndrome or homocystinuria
Some research suggests that children who spend less time outdoors may be more likely to develop short-sightedness too.
Are there any risks of wearing contact lenses?
The main risk with wearing contact lenses is getting an eye infection or scraping the surface of your eye. However, you can prevent this if you look after your contact lenses and your eyes properly.
There are many different types of contact lens available. Some you use daily and then throw away, others you clean each night and reuse. It’s important to have regular check-ups with your optometrist to make sure that your eyes are healthy and you’re using the best lenses for you. Contact lenses are always improving, so even if you haven’t got on with them in the past, it may be worth trying again.
Wearing contact lenses is usually safe and trouble-free. However, studies have shown that they slightly increase your risk of an eye infection when compared with not wearing lenses. It’s important that you care for your lenses and store them properly to prevent infection. You can help reduce your risk of getting an eye infection by:
- disinfecting reusable lenses in between using them – this usually means soaking them in a special solution overnight
- never using the same disinfecting solution twice
- rinsing your storage case and leaving it open to dry every day
- using a new storage case every month
- cleaning your storage case once a week using a clean toothbrush and contact lens solution
- always washing your hands before you touch your lenses
- seeing your GP or optometrist immediately if you have red or sore eyes and you think you might have an infection
If you wear contact lenses, you should never:
- go to bed with a painful red eye – seek medical advice as soon as possible
- wear your lenses overnight (unless they are specifically designed for this purpose)
- let tap water come into contact with your lenses
- wet your lenses with your saliva
- wear your lenses for swimming (unless you wear goggles)
It’s a good idea to have an up-to-date pair of glasses handy for when you need to remove your lenses. Always seek professional advice if you’re having problems with your contact lenses.
Can children have laser eye surgery to correct short-sightedness?
No, laser eye surgery isn't suitable for children.
Laser eye surgery can be used to correct short-sightedness. However, it’s not suitable if you’re under 21. This is because the eyesight of children and teenagers is constantly changing – they may become more short-sighted as they get older. If you decide to have laser surgery for your short-sightedness, your eyesight prescription (refraction) must not have changed for two to three years.
I think I’m short-sighted. Will I have to pay for an eye test?
Many people in the UK are entitled to a free eye examination paid for by the NHS. However, if you don't meet the criteria, you will have to pay for your eye test.
Certain people are entitled to a free eye test. This includes if you:
- are aged 60 or over
- are under 16
- are under 19 and in full-time education
- live in Scotland
- have diabetes or glaucoma
- are registered as blind or partially sighted
- receive income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance or pension credit guarantee credit
- have a medical condition and a valid NHS medical exemption certificate
- are entitled to vouchers for complex lenses
- are aged 40 or over and have a close relative with glaucoma
If you think you qualify for a free eye test, speak to your optometrist for advice before you have your eyes tested. An optometrist is a registered health professional who examines eyes, tests sight and dispenses glasses and contact lenses.
If you don't qualify for a free eye test, you will usually need to pay between £20 and £40 for a 20 to 30-minute appointment. Ask your local optometrist how much they charge for an eye test. There may be extra charges for additional tests.
If your GP has referred you to hospital for an eye test, this will be free.
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- Contact lenses. The Merck Manuals. www.merckmanuals.com, published April 2013
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