Refractive errors are one of the most common issues that a person can experience with their vision. What are they and how can we treat them? We will explore it in this article.
What are refractive errors?
Refractive errors are extremely common and they affect the ability of the eyes to focus light properly on the retina, at the back of the eyeball.
Ideally, all the rays of light get focused and combine exactly where the retina is to provide perfect visual acuity. However, when there is a refractive error, the rays of light might be unable to meet at the retina. This leads to a loss of visual acuity to a varying degree, depending on the severity of the error. Refractive errors can be caused by abnormalities in the shape of the cornea, the lens, or the eyeball itself; or by a combination of all them.
A refractive error can appear in either one eye or in both eyes and can also progress at a different pace in each eye. That, however, makes it harder to detect and in some instances can lead to bigger complications, like lazy eye and even loss of vision.
There are four common refractive errors:
- Nearsightedness - far away objects appear blurry as the rays of light end up connecting with each other before they reach the retina.
- Farsightedness - objects close to you appear blurry as the rays of light never meet properly to fall on the retina.
- Astigmatism - some of the rays may find and connect properly at the retina, however other rays connect at different points or never connect at all, lowering your visual acuity.
- Presbyopia - It also affects visual acuity, however the source is mostly age related, as the cornea ages and loses its flexibility.
What are the symptoms of having refractive errors?
A refractive error can cause a number of symptoms. Some of them are harder to identify, especially when the refractive error appears only in one eye.
As your brain struggles with interpreting the image your eyes send, you can experience a lot of different symptoms or even combinations of them. Some of the ones you might experience are:
- Blurry vision; this is the most common symptom
- Double vision
- Having to squint your eyes to see better
- Eye strain
- Lazy eye
Who is at risk of having a refractive error?
There are different factors that have been linked to the appearance of refractive errors:
- Genetics can play a huge role when it comes to refractive errors. If you have family members who have refractive errors, you should tell your eye specialist and have an eye examination, even if there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with your vision.
- Your environment can also be a cause for a refractive error. If you have bad habits, such as smoking, and spend long hours in front of a screen or a book without allowing your eyes to rest, the chances of developing a refractive error can increase. You can help your eyes by taking breaks and using filter sunglasses with a blue light blocker if you're usually working on the computer.
- Age is also a factor, with nearsightedness being more common in children and farsightedness appearing more in adults.
- Eye injury or trauma can also cause refractive errors in some cases.
What is the treatment for refractive errors?
Thankfully, most refractive errors can be effectively treated and their negative effects corrected or minimised. The most important step you need to take is to have examinations with an eye specialist from time to time, especially if you recognise changes in your vision.
Most refractive errors can be easily corrected by wearing prescription glasses or contact lenses. Some people, especially in the case of presbyopia, might also find other visual aids useful, such as magnifiers.
Refractive errors don't require surgery by themselves, but some people might chose to undergo a surgical procedure to improve their sight and avoid depending on glasses and contact lenses. This type of non-essential surgery is called refractive surgery.
It's essential to take care of your eye health and have regular eye examinations with your ophthalmologist or your optician. If managed effectively, refractive errors will have no significant impact on your quality of life.