Understanding Why Your Vision Is Blurry
Refractive errors are one of the most common vision problems affecting people worldwide. These common eye conditions occur when the shape of your eyes prevents light rays from focusing directly on the retina, resulting in blurred vision. The main types of refractive errors are nearsightedness (myopia), far-sightedness (hyperopia), astigmatism, and presbyopia. While genetics play a role, environmental factors like bright lights and screen usage also influence refractive disorders.
Vision is a precious gift allowing us to see the beauty around us. Refractive errors hamper this ability, reducing quality of life. Therefore, understanding the causes, diagnosis, and treatments for refractive errors is essential. With regular eye exams and proper correction like glasses, contacts or refractive surgery, clear vision can be restored. This comprehensive guide will cover all aspects of refractive errors and treatments in detail.
How Vision Works
To understand refractive errors, we must first comprehend how normal vision occurs. Light passes through the structures of the eye and is converted to signals that the brain interprets.
Eye Anatomy and Function
The human eye is a complex organ designed to focus light and produce images. It consists of the following key parts:
Cornea – The transparent window at the front of the eye allowing light to enter. It provides most of the eye’s focusing power.
Iris – The colored part with the pupil, which controls light levels entering the eye.
Lens – The clear lens fine-tunes focusing by changing shape.
Retina – The light-sensitive lining containing rods and cones that convert light into signals.
Optic Nerve – Carries visual signals from the eye to the brain.
Light Processing: The Journey From Light to Sight
Light first passes through the transparent cornea, which acts like a window at the front of the eye. The cornea bends and focuses incoming light rays through refraction, providing about two-thirds of the eye’s total focusing power. This focusing effect comes from the precisely curved shape of the cornea.
After passing through the cornea, light then travels through the pupil, which is the opening at the center of the colored iris. The iris can expand and contract the size of the pupil to regulate the amount of light entering the eye. In bright conditions, the iris constricts the pupil to reduce excessive light levels. In dim conditions, the iris dilates the pupil to allow more light in.
Behind the iris and pupil lies the crystalline lens, a clear structure suspended by tiny ligaments behind the iris. As light rays pass through, the lens provides additional fine focusing and refraction to bend the rays further. The lens can change shape by contracting or relaxing these ligaments to adjust its focusing power, a process called accommodation. This helps maintain clear vision at different distances.
The now focused beams of light pass through the vitreous gel and strike the retina, the light-sensitive inner lining of the eye. The retina contains photoreceptor cells called rods and cones. When light hits these cells, it triggers a cascade of chemical reactions that transforms the light’s energy into electrical signals. These visual signals then travel from the photoreceptors through a network of retinal neurons. They converge at the optic disc to form the optic nerve.
The optic nerve is like a cable made up of over one million nerve fibers that carry visual information from the eye to the brain. The optic nerve projects from the back of each eyeball and meets its counterpart in the optic chiasm. Here some fibers cross over to the other side of the brain. After the chiasm, the optic nerves are termed the optic tracts. These optic tracts contain the vital signals about light patterns, colors, movements and forms perceived by the eyes.
The optic tracts transmit the electrical visual signals to a region at the very back of the brain called the visual cortex. This area of the cerebral cortex specializes in processing visual information. Here, the encoded signals are finally interpreted and transformed into the images and scenes we actually perceive. This incredible series of steps, from light entry to signal transmission to brain processing, has to happen continuously to support normal vision and our ability to visually experience the world. Any disruption along the way can lead to significant visual disturbances or refractive errors.
Enter the Refractive Error: The Enemy of Clear Vision
Having clear vision depends on light being focused just right on the retina by your eye’s cornea and lens. The retina is the light-sensitive lining inside your eye with special cells that detect light and send signals to the brain. At the retina’s center is a tiny spot called the macula. This area is crucial for sharp central vision used for reading, driving, and seeing detail. For the clearest sight, light must be focused precisely on the macula. This focusing relies on the curve of your cornea, the bending ability of your lens, and having an eyeball that’s not too long or short. If the light isn’t focused perfectly on the macula due to refractive errors, vision becomes blurry or distorted. Things look fuzzy and lack sharpness. Refractive errors are common in both kids and adults. But eye doctors can detect the problem during an exam. Then glasses, contacts or vision correction surgery can restore clear sight by fixing the way light hits the macula. Regular eye check-ups help to keep your vision sharp.
Types of Common Refractive Errors
Myopia results from light focusing in front of the retina. This causes blurry vision of distant objects.
Causes: Longer eyeball, steep cornea, or strong lens focusing power. Also linked to excessive near work.
Symptoms: Blurry distance vision, eyestrain. Squinting to see far away.
Diagnosis: Eye exam, refraction testing.
Treatment: Glasses, contacts, LASIK surgery.
With hyperopia, light focuses behind the retina, making nearby objects blurry.
Causes: Shorter eyeball length, flat cornea, weak eye muscles.
Symptoms: Blurry near vision, eye strain reading.
Diagnosis: Reduced near visual acuity, retinoscopy.
Treatment: Convex corrective lenses, bifocals, refractive surgery.
Astigmatism results from an irregularly shaped cornea, causing blurred vision at all distances.
Causes: Corneal asymmetry, scarring, prior injury/surgery.
Symptoms: Blurred vision – near and far, eyestrain, halos around lights.
Diagnosis: Irregular refraction findings, corneal topography.
Treatment: Toric lenses, refractive surgery.
An age-related decline in near vision due to a stiffening crystalline lens. Causes difficulty with reading or close work.
Causes: Hardening of the lens over age 40.
Symptoms: Blurry near vision, eye fatigue.
Diagnosis: Worsening near visual acuity.
Treatment: Bifocals, reading glasses, refractive surgery.
Causes of Refractive Errors
Most infants are farsighted due to shorter eyeballs that elongate as they grow, reducing hyperopia. Myopia often develops during school years as children do more reading and near work but stabilizes in adulthood. Presbyopia starts around 40 years as the natural crystalline lens ages and loses flexibility.
Studies on twins show refractive errors often have a strong genetic component and run in families. Certain genetic syndromes like Marfan’s syndrome are also associated with very high degrees of myopia.
Longer axial length eyeballs beyond the normal range tend to cause myopia. Shorter eyeball length leads to hyperopia. Steep corneal curvature contributes to myopia while flatter corneas underlie hyperopia. Astigmatism results from asymmetric corneal curvature where one meridian is steeper than the other.
Excessive near work, computer use, smartphone screen time, and limited time spent outdoors are all linked to worsening school-age onset myopia in children. Ultraviolet light exposure and its impact on the eye may also play a role in refractive error development.
Diagnosis of Refractive Errors
Detecting refractive errors early through regular eye exams is key for timely treatment and correction. Diagnosis involves vision screening, comprehensive eye examination, refraction, and imaging tests to fully characterize ocular anatomy.
Visual acuity, refraction and eye alignment screening can identify refractive issues needing further evaluation. Annual screenings are recommended starting at age 4.
Comprehensive Eye Exam
A complete exam by an eye doctor checks for refractive errors and eye health problems. It includes refraction testing, retinal exam, and measurements of corneal curvature and axial length.
Refractive Error Correction
Eyeglasses with lenses containing customized prescriptions tailored to the individual’s specific refractive error and degree of correction needed are a simple and effective way to correct refractive errors. Different lens options like bifocals with separate distance and reading sections or seamless progressive no-line multifocal lenses are chosen based on the patient’s visual needs and daily activities. Because glasses do not address the structure of the eye causing the refractive error, a person’s eyeglass prescription will change requiring new lenses for their glasses.
Soft disposable contact lenses, rigid gas permeable contacts, toric lenses for astigmatism, and multifocal contacts all provide excellent correction of refractive errors when properly fitted and cared for. But potential risks like corneal abrasions, infections, or vision-threatening conditions necessitate careful and compliant use of contact lenses. Regular eye exams are a must.
For those considering a permanent solution to correct refractive errors and reduce dependency on glasses or contacts, laser eye surgery offers several excellent options. The most common and proven surgical procedures include LASIK, SMILE, EVO ICL, PRK, and Custom Lens Replacement (CLR), also known as RLE. Each of these options has unique benefits best suited to certain patients based on their eye anatomy, degree of correction needed, and lifestyle.
· LASIK uses a femtosecond laser to create a thin corneal flap, followed by an excimer laser sculpting the cornea to correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. It provides rapid recovery of clear vision.
· SMILE (Small Incision Lenticule Extraction) also uses a femtosecond laser to reshape the cornea through a small keyhole incision, avoiding flap-related risks of LASIK.
· EVO ICL is an implantable contact lens inserted into the eye to correct higher degrees of myopia not treatable with laser procedures. It preserves natural lens accommodation.
· PRK (Photorefractive Keratectomy) involves surface laser reshaping of the cornea without a flap, ideal for thin corneas or those in the military. Recovery is slightly longer.
· Custom Lens Replacement is a form of refractive cataract surgery that replaces the eye’s aging crystalline lens with an advanced intraocular lens (IOL) to correct vision and remove presbyopia. Light adjustable lens implants allow fine-tuning of the correction post-surgery.
Factors to Consider When Correcting Your Vision
Custom Lens Replacement (formerly known as Refractive Lens Exchange) uses custom lenses or IOLs to correct for presbyopia (aging vision). Progressively stronger reading glasses are often needed with advancing age. CLR lets patients avoid this.
Thicker corneas and minimal lens opacity are ideal for LASIK. PRK and EVO-ICL can be appropriate for patients with thinner corneas. Custom Lens Replacement (IOLs) work better even if you do not have significant cataracts.
Treatments like polarized lenses, photochromic lenses help maximize visual clarity in varied lighting conditions.
Emerging Trends in Refractive Correction
Research on genetic predisposition to myopia may guide early intervention in susceptible children. Advanced laser platforms like SMILE provide keyhole corneal reshaping with even quicker recovery times than LASIK. The National Eye Institute conducts ongoing research and clinical trials on refractive errors as part of the United States’ National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Jason Brinton is a leading expert on the topic, and has been the first ophthalmologist in Missouri to perform several new Food and Drug Administration approved procedures.
See More Clearly: Eliminate or Reduce Your Refractive Errors Today!
While refractive errors are highly prevalent, various effective solutions like glasses, contacts and refractive surgery can help restore crisp, clear vision. Getting comprehensive eye exams and managing risk factors will safeguard vision across life. Your visual perception will never outpace your ability to see clearly. Ongoing advances are making quality eye care more accessible worldwide so we can fully experience the gift of sight. Call today to schedule your Brinton Visual Ocular Analysis to see if you are a candidate for correcting your refractive errors with vision correction procedure, like LASIK or one of our LASIK alternatives. This exam will provide a comprehensive medical diagnosis of what is causing your refractive errors.