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Refractive Error and Vision

Millions of Americans have a very important trait in common: they are all affected by refractive error.  Refractive error occurs when the shape of the eye does not perfectly allow for light to focus, making objects appear blurry, distorted, or out of focus.  Nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism are all forms of refractive error. While refractive error can be burdensome, especially when it is present in significant amounts, it is typically easily remedied by glasses, contact lenses, or surgeries.  Read on to learn more about how refractive error can affect vision. 

Nearsightedness (Myopia)

Myopia is a type of refractive error in which objects in the distance seem blurrier or more difficult to see.  There are two main causes of myopia: the eye may be too long, or the cornea (the front, clear part of the eye) is too curved.  In some cases, it is a combination of the two. Regardless, these factors mean that light is focusing in front of the retina, or the back surface of the eye which is responsible for receiving image information.  Myopia is the most common refractive error, and can be easily remedied with glasses or contact lenses. Many people with myopia will also be excellent candidates for refractive surgery, such as LASIK or PRK, potentially eliminating the need for visual correction.  Because this type of refractive error can mean the eye is abnormally long, it may carry some health risks, such as an increased risk of retinal detachment. Regular comprehensive eye examinations can ensure that myopic eyes remain healthy and fully functioning. 

Farsightedness (Hyperopia)

Hyperopia results in objects up close appearing blurrier.  This type of refractive error is less common than myopia, but still affects millions of Americans.  Oftentimes, in cases of hyperopia, the eye’s focusing system can temporarily mask the symptoms of the refractive error, hiding the need for glasses.  If this is the case, symptoms like headaches and eye strain may occur, especially after extended periods of reading or near-work. Contrary to myopia, hyperopia is caused by an eye that is too short or a cornea that is less-curved, leaving light to focus behind the retina and form a blurry image.  While contact lenses and glasses are great corrective options for hyperopes, refractive surgery is less commonly a treatment approach. 


Astigmatism is a very common form of refractive error, seen to some extent in almost every eye.  Astigmatism is the result of the cornea being slightly irregularly shaped, resulting in some aspects of light focusing in a different area of the retina than others.  This form of refractive error commonly results in distortions or abnormally shaped lines and edges. While astigmatism has a bad reputation of being a dangerous or difficult-to-correct finding, it is a harmless condition that can be easily addressed with glasses or contact lenses.  In some cases, refractive surgery can also address astigmatism. 

Myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism can all be identified and addressed in a comprehensive eye examination.  To detect a refractive error and help correct your vision, schedule an eye exam with Lilac Family Eye Care, where we have many options to help you achieve your best vision.