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Astigmatism vs. Myopia – What’s the Difference?

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Your vision is critical to your quality of life, but that doesn’t mean it will always be perfectly clear. There are plenty of eye problems that can develop over the years and affect your sight, with refractive errors being a common cause of vision issues. Two common refractive errors are astigmatism and myopia—but what’s the difference?

Myopia, or nearsightedness, develops when the eye elongates or the cornea curves too steeply. This makes things appear blurrier the further away from the eye. Meanwhile, astigmatism develops when a problem with the cornea’s curvature leads to blurry vision, often at all distances.

What Are Refractive Errors?

The human eye requires a precise shape to do its job. The spherical shape lets light enter through a clear part near the front of the eye (the cornea) and refract to reach the retina. When the eye is properly shaped, the information is sent to the brain clearly.

However, that doesn’t mean the eye will always be shaped correctly. As children grow, their eyes are constantly changing, and sometimes, a problem develops with the shape of the eye. Then, the eye can’t refract light as it needs to, leading to blurry vision, headaches, and other symptoms. This is a refractive error.

While there are several types of refractive errors, there are 2 that are more common than most: astigmatism and myopia.

What Is Astigmatism?

The cornea, the dome-shaped clear tissue at the front of your eye, plays an important role in how light enters the eye. Think of it like a window—when perfectly shaped, light can enter through it and reach the retina without any issues. However, sometimes the cornea is not well-shaped. This is astigmatism.

There are 2 types of astigmatism:

  • Corneal astigmatism: Where the cornea itself is irregular. Rather than being shaped like a sphere, it’s closer to a football. Light focuses on several different points throughout the eye rather than the retina.
  • Lenticular astigmatism: The lens inside the eye isn’t properly shaped. Like corneal astigmatism, this causes light to focus on several points, distorting vision at all distances.

No matter the type, the result of astigmatism is the same: you’ll experience significant vision impairment.

The Symptoms of Astigmatism

If you’re living with astigmatism, you’ll likely experience:

  • Blurred or distorted vision at all distances
  • Eye strain or discomfort
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty seeing at night
  • Frequent squinting

If any of these sound familiar, it’s time to visit your optometrist to discuss solutions.

What Is Myopia?

Myopia, better known as nearsightedness, is the most common refractive error. It develops when the eye grows longer than it is wide or when the cornea is too curved. Rather than reaching the retina, light rays converge just in front of it, causing them to scatter. This makes it much more difficult to see objects clearly the further they get from the eye.

Myopia is progressive and affects at least 40% of Americans. It usually begins to develop around early school age, with symptoms worsening as a child grows. It typically stabilizes around the age of 20 or so.

The Symptoms of Myopia

So, how can you tell if a child has myopia? Try to look out for:

  • Difficulty seeing distant objects clearly
  • Squinting or partially closing the eyelids to see clearly
  • Frequent headaches due to eye strain
  • Sitting very close to the TV or computer screen
  • Holding books or other objects unusually close to the face
  • Complaints of not seeing the board at school clearly
  • Rubbing eyes frequently
  • Excessive blinking

If you recognize any of these signs, your child may be dealing with myopia. 

A child smiling while trying on a pair of eyeglasses.

How to Treat Refractive Errors

If you think you or your child have a refractive error, it’s crucial to schedule an eye exam with your optometrist as soon as possible. Early detection is key to effectively managing these conditions. Correction aims to alter how your eye focuses light to give clear vision.

There are typically 2 approaches. Your optometrist will likely recommend corrective lenses—especially for younger patients. This can be done through:

  • Eyeglasses
  • Contact lenses

If you’re an adult and your prescription has been stable for at least 1 year, your optometrist may recommend corrective eye surgery. This permanently alters the eye’s natural lens to properly refract light and give you clear vision without needing help from corrective lenses.

Keep Your Vision Clear

If you or your child are experiencing blurry vision, strain, or any other problem with your vision, get in touch with our team at Vision Care Grayslake. We can perform a comprehensive eye exam to find out what’s causing your vision troubles. Your eyes are critical to your quality of life, so don’t wait—schedule an appointment with our clinic today!

Written by Dr. Charlotte Nielsen

Dr. Nielsen is a member of the Illinois Optometric Association (IOA) and the American Optometric Association (AOA). She has held several offices in the IOA, including president, and received the “Young Optometrist of the Year” from the IOA in 2000. Currently, she is the Illinois Key Person Coordinator for the AOA, and recipient of the Optometric Recognition Award from the AOA. Dr. Nielsen was named Illinois College of Optometry’s Alumna of the Year in 2008.
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