Myopia: What Causes Nearsightedness? (+ Foods, Vitamins & Tips for Eye Health)

May 14, 2018

Myopia - Dr. Axe
Do you have blurry vision when looking at far away distances, but see more clearly when looking at things up close? This is a sign that you might have myopia, or “nearsightedness.”

The number of people dealing with myopia has increased considerably in recent years. According to studies conducted by the National Eye Institute (NEI), in the early 1970s roughly 25 percent of the U.S. population between the ages 12 and 54 had myopia. Today this number has increased to at least a whopping 30–42 percent, as of the early 2000s. (1)

Myopia is now considered to be the most common refractive error of the eyes — a term that describes an abnormal shape of one or both eyes that causes light to bend incorrectly, resulting in blurred vision. (2) What are some common myopia causes? Being nearsighted runs in families and is usually at least partially caused by genetic inheritance. But experts believe that other factors like eye strain/eye fatigue and oxidative stress are also responsible for increased prevalence of myopia.

Wondering how to cure myopia naturally? Most people who are nearsighted can correct their vision pretty easily by wearing custom contact lenses or glasses. Other ways to help prevent or manage myopia and boost your eye health include eating a nutrient-dense diet (high in antioxidants, vitamin A/beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fats), exercising, reducing eye strain and managing inflammation.


What Is Myopia? 

Myopia is another name for nearsightedness. If you have myopia, close objects appear clearly but far away objects do not. (3)

Myopia is one very common type of refractive error that causes vision to be blurry. Aside from myopia (nearsightedness or “short-sightedness”), other refractive errors include hypermetropia (also called far- or long-sightedness) and astigmatism, where the shape of your eye is not spherical.

Nearsightedness affects people of all ages, including young children and otherwise healthy adults. Your vision may also become worse once you reach your 40s and older, typically due to presbyopia. Presbyopia is the gradual loss of near vision caused by aging. If you have presbyopia, you can see far away but have a harder time seeing close-up, such as when reading. Symptoms start to become noticeable in your 40s and continue to progress until about the age of 65.


Signs & Symptoms of Myopia

Most people know they have myopia because their vision gets noticeably worse and they start having trouble reading or making out images that are far away. In some cases, because vision can gradually worsen over time, it can be hard to notice that myopia has developed and requires correction. It’s only after vision becomes bad enough to cause headaches and other problems that people may finally head to their doctor for help.

What are some signs that you may have myopia? The most common myopia symptoms include:

  • Having a hard time seeing distant objects clearly, but being able to see images that are close-up.
  • Difficulty reading text that is far away, such as road signs. Students might also notice they can’t make out words written on chalk/white boards
  •  Not having trouble with close-up tasks such as reading, using a phone, or working on the computer. If you struggle to view images that are close to you, this is a sign of farsightedness.
  • Symptoms of eye strain, including squinting, headaches, increased sensitivity to light, burning sensations, redness of the eyes, dry eyes and pain near the eyes or forehead.
  • Feeling like your eyes are “tired,” overworked or fatigued. This is likely to happen when reading distant text for an extended period of time, when driving or when playing sports that requires you to see distant objects.

At what age does myopia usually occur? Myopia typically begins in childhood or the early teenage years. By early adulthood, such as in one’s 20s, vision usually stabilizes and doesn’t become worse. However, for some people visual problems can continue to progress, especially into older age as eye health and vision tends to suffer.

High vs. Low Myopia

There are different degrees, or severities, of myopia (nearsightedness). The severity of myopia someone has will affect how much vision is impacted and how severe other symptoms are, such as straining and squinting. High vs. moderate vs. low myopia is categorized depending on the strength of the lens that’s needed to correct vision. This is expressed in diopters, which indicate lens strength. (4)

  • Low myopia refers to myopia of −3.00 diopters or less.
  • Moderate myopia refers to myopia between −3.00 and −6.00 diopters.
  • High myopia refers to anything above -6.00 diopters.

With high myopia, potentially serious problems affecting the retina may develop, such as cataracts (clouding of the eye’s lens), retinal detachment or glaucoma (a condition that causes damage to the optic nerve). High myopia increases the risk of other eye-related problems because it may interfere with normal blood supply to the retina. If a retina becomes detached, it pulls away from the underlying tissue called the choroid, which is needed to supply the retina with oxygen and nutrients that support normal vision.

Myopia facts & figures - Dr. Axe

Myopia Causes & Risk Factors

Primary and Secondary Myopia

  • Primary myopia is present at birth or at an early age, such as in childhood. This type of myopia is hereditary and believed to be mostly unpreventable.
  • Secondary myopia starts in late childhood, during the teenage years, or as an adult. Secondary myopia is believed to be related to external factors and may be partially preventable.
  • Degenerative myopia describes myopia that becomes severe (also called malignant or pathological myopia). This is believed to be hereditary and usually emerges in early childhood. It can potentially lead to legal blindness, although it doesn’t always.

The retina — which is said to be “where vision first begins”— is the sensory membrane layer at the back of the eyeball that contains cells that are sensitive to light (called photoreceptors). (5) Light rays are focused by the cornea and lens onto the retina. When light reaches the retina this triggers nerve impulses that pass through the optic nerve to the brain. The brain then deciphers the nerve impulses and forms a visual image.

Myopia affects how the retina, cornea and lens in the eye respond to light. Light must enter your eye in a certain way in order to be focused accurately and for images to be clear. Nearsightedness is commonly due to light rays focusing at a point in front of the retina, rather than directly on its surface. (6) This happens when the eyeball essentially grows too long. Aside from light not hitting the correct part of the retina, another reason that someone may become nearsighted is due to their cornea being too curved for the length of their eyeball.

What is the underlying reason that myopia develops? Some of the most common myopia causes and risk factors include: (7)
  • Genetic inheritance. If your parents were nearsighted, you are more likely to be as well. Inheriting certain genes that affect nerve cell function, metabolism, and eye development can increase your risk for myopia.
  • Eye fatigue/eye strain caused from increased use of computers, phones and tablets. Use of all of these devices is considered a “near vision task,” since they force your eyes to focus on small print/objects that are right in front of you.
  • Due to changes in the eyes following surgery or an ocular trauma.
  • Having another health condition such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease or anemia.
  • Having a disorder that affects the eyes/vision,  such as eye trauma or injury, myasthenia gravis, (a neuromuscular disorder), macular degeneration, cataracts or glaucoma.
  • Too little sunlight exposure and daylight activity.
  • Too little physical activity. Studies have found that a lack of time spent outdoors and greater amount of time spent doing near-work (like reading, writing, and working on a computer) increase your risk.
  • Poor diet that is low in vitamins and antioxidants.

Interestingly, some studies have found evidence that more outdoor activity may protect against development of myopia in children. (8) It’s been shown that myopia tends to get worse and progress in children more quickly during the winter, rather than in the summer. (9) That’s because during the winter months children spend less time outside, generally do less physical activity, and engage in more schoolwork and tasks that require focusing on close-up images (such as working on the computer or reading books). These habits can lead to increased eye strain and potentially increased inflammation.


Conventional Myopia Treatment

The first thing to do if you suspect you might have myopia is to schedule an appointment for an eye examination with an optometrist or ophthalmologist (a doctor that specializes in treating the eyes). You can discuss whether you need glasses that have special myopia lenses, or if you are a good candidate for contact lenses. If you already wear glasses or contacts but your vision is still poor, you might need a stronger prescription.

Other treatment options for myopia can include: (10)

  • Use of bifocals, which contain two different lens powers or prescriptions.
  • Progressive lenses, “dual focus” soft contact lenses, or gas permeable contact lenses. There’s some evidence that dual focus lenses may lead to less myopia progression, although they’re not yet widely available.
  • Corrective surgery. Refractive surgery is an option once the optic error of the eye has stabilized, which usually happens in someone’s 20s. Examples of refractive surgery are laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) and photorefractive keratectomy (PRK).
  • Drug and laser procedure called photodynamic therapy that’s used for severe cases of degenerative myopia.
  • An oral medicine called 7-methylxanthine (7-mx) that may help stop nearsightedness in children from getting worse.
  • Topical drugs such as atropine or pirenzepine that also help stop progression.

Is there such a thing as a myopia cure? Most people will turn to myopia lenses to correct their vision problem. Sometimes a patient may undergo refractive surgery to more permanently solve the problem. Surgery is the closest thing to a myopia cure, although it doesn’t always solve the problem for good. Vision may wind up getting worse several years after surgery if underlying causes are not addressed.

Myopia & the eyeball - Dr. Axe

6 Natural Ways to Manage Myopia & Improve Eye Health

1. Eat a Nutrient-Dense Diet

Eating a whole foods, anti-inflammatory diet is the best way to obtain more of the vitamins your eyes need. These include carotenoid antioxidants like lutein, and zeaxanthin, plus vitamins C, A and E, as well as zinc and essential fatty acids — all of which support eye development and help protect aging eyes. (1112) Inflammation due to an unhealthy diet and lifestyle can contribute to eye problems including myopia because inflammation affects blood flow. The retina receives blood by a delicate network of small blood vessels that are susceptible to damage if someone has an inflammatory disease, such as diabetes.

What are the best foods to eat to protect your eyes and vision?

  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, swiss chard, etc. These provide lutein and zeaxanthin, which have anti-inflammatory effects. Other foods that supply these nutrients include broccoli, organic corn, free-range egg yolks and tropical fruits like papaya.
  • Yellow- and red-fleshed fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut/winter squash, tomatoes, cantaloupe, apricots and red bell peppers.
  • Foods high in vitamin E like sunflower seeds, almonds and avocados.
  • Vitamin C-rich foods like guava, kiwi, oranges, berries and greens like kale.
  • Zinc-rich foods like lamb, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds and chickpeas.
  • Foods high in vitamin A, like egg yolks, liver, grass-fed butter and cod liver oil.
  • Omega-3 fatty acid foods such as salmon, sardines, trout, walnuts and flaxseeds.

Inflammatory foods to avoid that may worsen existing health conditions and damage your eyes include:

  • Any food allergies you have (such as gluten, dairy or nuts)
  • Processed grains
  • Refined vegetables oils
  • Foods sprayed with lots of pesticides (non-organic crops)
  • Fast food
  • Processed meats
  • Foods with added sugar
  • Too much caffeine and alcohol

2. Spend Enough Times Outdoors & in the Sun

There’s evidence that children who spend more time outdoors have a lower chance of becoming nearsighted, even if they also spend time a good amount of time reading and on other near-tasks. Less time outside means more time doing near-work and less time to gaze off into the distance. Natural sunlight may also provide important cues for eye development. Too little sunlight can interfere with sleep, moods, energy and vitamin D levels, all of which can take a toll on overall health.

One study conducted in Taiwan found that when students were randomly assigned to either a group that completed outdoor activities during recess, or a group that maintained their normal routines during recess, the outdoor group developed less myopia. The study found that 8.4 percent of children involved in outdoor activities during recess became myopic, compared to 17.7 percent of children who maintained their normal recess activities. (13)

Try to spend some time each day outdoors where you don’t need to focus your eyes so much. Take a 20 minute walk, play with your kids, garden or do lawn work, or find another way to de-stress outdoors.

3. Take Steps to Limit Eye Strain

Our eyes are sensitive to things like too much light exposure, lack of sleep, nutrient deficiencies, muscular tension, and environmental pollutants. Start by limiting your daily exposure to computers, phones, and other devices that give off blue light and force your eyes to focus. While working and reading, increase the amount of light so your eyes have an easier time making out objects. Take a break from near-vision tasks at least every 20 minutes and spend time looking at far away distances. You can also relax your eyes by closing them, doing eye exercises, walking outdoors, napping, or doing something relaxing like yoga or stretching.

Doctor recommend simple “eye exercises” to soothe fatigued eyes. Exercises for your eyes include: palming, blinking, sideways viewing, front and sideways viewing, rotational viewing, up and down viewing, preliminary nose tip gazing, and near and distant viewing.

While spending some time in the sun is important for preventing vitamin D deficiency, too much direct sunlight reaching your eyes can worsen eye strain. If you spend many hours outside in the sun, protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses that block UV radiation and/or a hat. You should also wear protective eyewear while working with chemicals, playing contact sports, doing yard work that can cause chemicals to get into your eyes, or when working with metal shavings or wood.

4. Quit Smoking & Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is the root cause of many diseases, including those that negatively impact eye health. You might not be able to prevent all diseases, but you can lower your risk for many chronic illnesses by quitting smoking, avoiding high alcohol consumption and other drugs, not taking any unnecessary medications, eating a healthy diet and exercising. Decreasing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking are two lifestyle choices that can greatly decrease your cataract risk.

To protect your vision and prevent myopia from worsening, get treatment for underlying health conditions that affect blood flow and the nerves— including Sjögren’s syndrome, diabetes, lupus, Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and high blood pressure. Stay on top of doctor’s appointments and checkups so you will be alerted right away if your vision starts to suffer.

5. Treat Dry Eyes, Discomfort & Headaches Naturally

Myopia might be accompanied by symptoms like dry eyes, pain due to squinting, redness and discomfort. You can ask your doctor about using prescription or over-the-counter eye drops to provide relief. Drink plenty of water, make sure to cleanse your contact lenses properly each day, wash your hands before touching your eyes and take breaks from focusing on close-up images.

If you struggle with headaches, get your contact lenses or glasses prescription checked to make sure it doesn’t need to be adjusted. Other natural headache remedies include applying peppermint essential oil to your temples, taking a magnesium supplement, breathing exercises, meditation and getting enough sleep.

6. Exercise & Stay Physically Active

Exercise is one of the best ways to naturally boost blood flow and control inflammation — two factors that are important for eye health. Aim to get at least 30–60 minutes of daily activity. Encourage your kids to do the same by playing outside or joining a sports team. Find more fun things to do that don’t involve watching TV, working on the computer or using your phone. This can include walking, cycling, gardening, dancing, listening to podcasts or audiobooks, or even cooking and cleaning your home.


Precautions

Myopia is usually not a dangerous or very serious condition to treat. Normally it won’t result in serious complications and can be treated effectively with corrective eyeglasses, contact lenses or surgery. If you have any disease that puts your vision at risk, visit your doctor if you notice symptoms worsening. Always report to your doctor any vision related problems, including astigmatismhyperopia, cloudy vision, burning, headaches and floating spots.


Key Points on Myopia

  • Myopia is a condition that causes nearsightedness. Images that are far away appear blurry, but objects that are close up remain clear.
  • Myopia occurs when light cannot be properly focused on the retina. Problems with the cornea and lens may contribute to this, and blood flow and nerve impulses may be impacted.
  • Conventional treatments for myopia include use of eyeglasses, contacts and sometimes surgery to correct vision.
  • Myopia can occur at birth or in young children, but usually emerges in the teenage years or 20s. It tends to stabilize in the 20s but can also progress into older age.
  • Genetics, a poor diet, too little time spent outdoors, eye strain, too little physical activity, inflammation and underlying medical conditions can contribute to myopia.
  • A healthy diet, exercise and more time outside are linked to better eye health and vision.

6 Tips To Boost Eye Health & Help Manage Myopia:

  1. Eat foods high in antioxidants, vitamin A/beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fats.
  2. Get some sunlight exposure, but not too much. Wear sunglasses and protective eyewear to block UV radiation and protect your eyes from trauma.
  3. Exercise.
  4. Quit smoking to reduce inflammation.
  5. Limit eye strain.
  6. Treat dry eyes and any underlying health condition known to impact vision.

Read Next: Uveitis Causes + 7 Tips to Improve Eye Health


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