Nearsightedness begins in teen years

By Saj Sri-Kumar and Megan Ward

Up until ninth grade, Michelle Choi ’12 didn’t have trouble with her vision. However, she soon realized that she needed help.

“I figured out [that I needed glasses] when I couldn’t see what was written on the board,” she said.

Like Choi, many teenagers start to have trouble with long-distance vision. Myopia, or nearsightedness, often afflicts teenagers for the first time, according to ophthalmologist Tali Kolin (Danielle ’08, David ’12).

“If you think about the physics and the optics of the eye, a lot of times when teenagers have a growth spurt their eye gets longer as well, and so now the lens that they had does not focus properly on the back of the eye,” Kolin said. “It focuses for a shorter focal length, and now that the eye is longer, the focus is off. And so teens tend to need myopic correction for distance in order to correct the length of the globe.”

Ophthalmologist Erica Lehman said that teenagers’ study habits often exacerbate the problem. She said looking at computer screens and reading books late at night causes people to have dry eyes, resulting in a decreased blink rate and making stresses on the eyes more harmful.

“Although nearsightedness, difficulty seeing far, and farsightedness, difficulty seeing close objects, are genetic, it is during the lots of hours of reading and focusing during high school and college years that make these conditions more apparent,” Lehman said. “Many kids who read late at night get accommodative fatigue, where their eyes have to focus more, which leads to more apparent latent hyperopia or farsightedness.”

Myopia first affected Solange Etessami ’13 when she was in seventh grade. While she initially wore glasses, she eventually switched over to contact lenses after she lost her glasses.

“I definitely prefer contact lenses to glasses because I don’t feel that there is something permanently attached to my entire face,” she said.

Choi initially chose glasses as well, but after losing multiple pairs, she also switched over to contact lenses. However, she no longer wears either because she found that contact lenses hurt her eyes.

“I can’t see much of what’s on the board so all the time I have to ask someone to let me know when a quiz is written on the board,” she said.

Adam Lange ’13 has needed glasses since third grade. Without them, Lange would not be able to see much farther than “eight inches away from [his] face,” he said. His prescription of -2.75 indicates that a person with perfect eyesight can see things 275 feet away that he can see at only 20 feet away.

While myopia commonly develops in teenagers, Kolin said that hyperopia, requiring reading glasses, is rare among teenagers and usually manifests itself in adults as they age. Instead, difficulty reading is due to a condition known as asthenopia, or eye strain.

“It’s rare that children require reading glasses,” she said. “That’s true of adults, not of children. Asthenopia, problems of pain and discomfort with near tasks, a lot of times just requires an eye exam. There might be an uncorrected refractive error that’s being missed, or a problem with near points of conversion and accommodated insufficiency, but you need to have an eye exam to figure it out.”