For the past 30 years, rates of myopia, or nearsightedness, have grown in this country. According to a recent study out of the National Eye Institute and published in the journal, Archives of Ophthalmology, doctors have seen a greater incidence of myopia between 1999 and 2004 than were seen between 1971 and 1972 (41.6% vs. 25%, respectively). Prevalence of nearsightedness at all levels of severity has increased in both African-American and Caucasian populations between the ages of 12-54 years.

Myopia is a common condition whereby objects at a distance appear unclear or blurry. It often arises from the eyeball becoming elongated, thus altering the refractive index that results in objects focusing in front of the retina. Objects that are close-up often appear clear. Myopia can also be caused by abnormalities in the lens or cornea of the eye.

Why the increase has occurred is cause for concern among the medical establishment, who for the most part are at a loss for an explanation. While some attribute the rise to better access to eye care and as a consequence, greater awareness through improved diagnostic techniques, many feel that this line of reasoning falls short.

In fact, some experts feel that the changes in our lifestyles may lie at the heart of the matter, mainly due to differences in the way that children spend their time. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that having good eyesight was necessary to ensure survival, helping to avoid predators and dangerous situations.

In the modern world, however, this need no longer exists, and as children spend greater amounts of time indoors watching TV or working on the computer, their eyes may develop differently in accordance with these modern circumstances. Therefore, it is a commonly held belief that myopia is rooted in a combination of genetic and environmental influences. Interestingly, there is one school of thought that believes that there may be a positive connection between myopia and intelligence.

Though it can affect people of all ages, it is regularly detected in children between the ages of 8 and 12, and it is not uncommon for eyesight to gradually decline during the teen years. Eyesight can stabilized between the ages of 20 and 40, but may ultimately deteriorate with age. Though the exact causes of myopia are still not clear, it is common for children whose parents are nearsighted to be more prone to vision problems.

Myopia is very treatable with the use of either glasses or contact lenses, and refractive surgery is sometimes an option. If you suspect that you or someone you know is developing nearsightedness, speak with your physician or eye care professional about getting tested. For more information, check out the website of the National Institutes for Health on the subject.