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Essential vision terms

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Q: My eye doctor told me I have farsightedness, but I have more trouble up close. These vision terms always confuse me...can you explain these to me?

A: So glad you asked, as we are asked this exact sort of question many times every single day! I do think eyesight problems are named “backwards.” Most medical conditions are named for the problem. But vision conditions are named not for the problem, but for the better part that is less affected.

Here are the basic “big four” vision conditions: nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia. To complicate the issue, most people have more than just one of these! Nearsightedness means your best vision is near. You will have blurrier vision far away and clearer vision up close. This is the fastest-growing type of vision disorder...sort of an epidemic worldwide. Children are becoming more nearsighted (we call it “myopia”) at earlier ages and progressing to stronger glasses faster than was true in the past. The good news is we now have several medical approaches to slowing or stopping myopia progression. If one or both parents have a strong nearsighted prescription, they should ask their eye doctor about preventive steps for their children.

Farsightedness means your better vision is far away, and your near vision is more difficult. This is harder to diagnose in kids because most vision screenings only check distance vision. Therefore, many children have near vision problems, which can impact reading skills, which go undiagnosed without a true professional eye examination.

Astigmatism is the trickiest one to explain because it can affect your vision at all distances! This is caused by the shape of your eyes, making incoming light (your vision) distorted. While many people worry that astigmatism is a disease, it is not. More people have astigmatism along with one of the first two disorders. This combination of vision blur is “the norm” and is well corrected with glasses or contact lenses.

Presbyopia is the problem where typically men complain that their arms are too short! This joking description comes from the fact that if you are developing presbyopia, you can help your focus by pushing the print back further from your eyes. This one is truly inevitable. The cause? Birthdays! Everyone develops this at some stage of life... in their 40’s. More good news! We can easily solve this one with glasses (progressive lenses) or with contact lenses (multifocal lenses).

So, rest assure, your confusion is quite common. Understanding these terms, and how they apply to yourself, or a family member is not mysterious. In reality, a really good eye exam includes a lot of teaching. Terms, causes, and treatments should be clearly explained by your eye doctor. Thorough eye examinations take more time, and you should never hesitate to ask good questions.