It’s All Greek To Me

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By Stephen Cohen, O.D. – 

Myopia. Hyperopia. Astigmatism. Presbyopia. I have no idea what you’re talking about-opia. If you are like millions of other Americans, one of these terms describes you. Presbyopia alone affects over 100 million people, but don’t worry, it’s not contagious. These are the terms that describe how your eyes work, or, in some cases, do not work. They are terms that are often thrown around, but at the same time, are often not really understood.

The first two terms, “myopia” and “hyperopia,” are more commonly known as nearsightedness and farsightedness, respectively. However, even these more common terms are often misunderstood. When you are nearsighted, you are “sighted for near,” and may have difficulty seeing far away. When you are farsighted, you are “sighted for far.” In this case, you may have difficulty seeing things up close, or your eyes may have to work harder to see things up close. Nearsightedness and farsightedness involve the shape of the front of our eyes, and/or the length of our eyes from the front to the back. Up to the age of about five or six, farsightedness is not only fairly common, it is expected. Conversely, nearsightedness tends to develop during the school age, most commonly between about third grade through the late teens to early twenties.

Presbyopia, on the other hand, is the loss of our ability to focus on things up close. This is also known as the time when “our arms get too short,” and involves changes in the capability of the lens inside our eyes to change shape to be able to focus with reading. That is different than farsightedness. Presbyopia typically becomes noticeable at around 40 years of age. As a matter of fact, may people think it comes on very suddenly, as if someone came in during the night of their 40th birthday and stole their reading vision. In reality, these changes are very gradual, yet progressive, typically leveling off in our mid 50’s. When presbyopia affects us, we find that we have to hold things further away from our face to read. Small print will be difficult to see, and we need better lighting and contrast. Reading glasses or bifocals are the most common remedies, but there are also several contact lens options, including bifocal contacts.

Astigmatism, sometimes called “that ‘stiga’ thing,” also typically involves the shape of the front of our eyes. Unlike nearsightedness, most astigmatism develops at a very young age. With astigmatism, instead of our eyes being shaped round, like a baseball, they will be shaped more like a football, with one curve being different than another. Light will then focus on different places in the back of our eyes, causing blur. It would be like sitting in a movie theater, and having the projector lens distorted a bit so that light focuses at several places, none of which are on the screen itself. Like presbyopia, glasses are the most common treatment, but, again, there are many contact lens options available to address astigmatism.

There are now also both surgical (e.g., LASIK) and non-surgical (e.g., Corneal Refractive Therapy” using contact lenses that reshape your eyes while you sleep) options available for many of these conditions.

However, you “look” at it, we have more options than ever to treat whatever “opia” ails you.

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