The often-overlooked brother of myopia (or nearsightedness), hyperopia (or farsightedness) affects approximately 10% of the American adult population. However, if you don’t have it now, there’s a good chance you once did—you just don’t remember it.
Intrigued? Read on to learn the meaning of farsightedness, its symptoms, and how best to treat it.
What Is Farsightedness?
Farsightedness (hyperopia) is an eye condition that mostly affects how you see nearby objects: Your vision may be clearer when you’re looking across distances and fuzzier or blurred when you try to view text and items that are closer to your face. In severe cases of hyperopia, distance vision may be blurred as well.
Hyperopia is the medical term for farsightedness. Like nearsightedness and astigmatism, it’s a kind of refractive error that affects how light conveys information to the eye.
To explain why hyperopia happens, it’s useful to first look at an eye without any refractive errors.
Normally, light enters the eye and is focused by the cornea and lens to a point on the surface of the retina. The retina senses the light and passes information to the brain through the optic nerve, and the brain then interprets the information as images.
In an eye with hyperopia, the light doesn’t focus squarely onto the retina. Instead, it ends up focused on a point behind the retina, essentially overshooting it and causing issues with your near vision.
Typically, this misplacement occurs because the eyeball is too short in length or the cornea lacks a certain amount of curve.
Are There Other Names for Farsightedness?
Farsightedness is also known as hyperopia or hypermetropia—these terms can be used interchangeably.
In countries such as Britain and Australia, the term long-sighted is used more commonly than farsighted. (Fortunately, both terms make it sound like some kind of cool superpower.)
Hyperopia and myopia have different visual symptoms, but they’re both caused by light not landing quite where it should within the eye.
In an eye with myopia, light is refracted so that it lands just short of the retina, resulting in poorer distance vision. Hyperopic eyes focus light just past the retina, resulting in poorer near vision (and in some severe cases, poorer distance vision, too).
Hyperopia vs. Presbyopia
Many people confuse hyperopia with presbyopia because their symptoms are so similar. But the two conditions have different root causes, and aren’t the same thing.
Presbyopia occurs as the lens of the eye becomes less flexible with age. The muscles around the lens, which also weaken as you grow older, have a harder time moving it, and tasks requiring close-up vision become tougher. (Presbyopia is the main reason why many folks over 40 need reading glasses.)
If you think you may have hyperopia, check for the following farsightedness symptoms:
- Nearby objects and text are blurry and unclear
- A strained, achey, or burning sensation in or around your eyes
- Headaches, especially after doing tasks that require close-up vision such as reading
- Frequent squinting
- Trouble with accurate depth perception
If you’re experiencing any of the above hyperopia symptoms (or any eye-related issues), then schedule an eye exam with an optometrist. No need to self-diagnose—let a doctor do it!
What Causes Farsightedness?
Scientists don’t know exactly what causes farsightedness, but it seems to have a genetic component. You’re more likely to be farsighted if your parents are, too.
Fun fact: most infants are actually born with mild farsightedness, and then proceed to grow out of it as their eyes develop and lengthen. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, by the time they turn 1, only 4% of children have hyperopia.
Young children with mild hyperopia often don’t experience any symptoms, because their growing eyes can self-correct the refractive error and prevent blurry vision.
However, if their hyperopia is moderate to severe, it will cause problems with near vision. Left untreated, these children may also develop other eye problems, such as strabismus (“eye turn”) or amblyopia (“lazy eye”).
How Do You Test for Hyperopia?
Your optometrist can diagnose hyperopia during a standard eye exam.
You’ll first be asked to read letters on a chart with no corrective lenses helping your eyes. Then you’ll probably look through a machine called a phoropter, which has several different lenses attached. The doctor will place a series of lenses in front of your eyes and ask which ones make it easier to read the chart.
They may also use other tools, such as a retinoscope, to nail down your prescription. This tool shines a light into your eye so that the doctor can see how it’s reflected, and further refine your prescription’s strength.
If you have hyperopia, you’ll notice a + sign in front of the numbers on your eye prescription (for example, +3.50).
A comprehensive eye exam is the best way to figure out whether you’re farsighted or not—other types of testing may not account for this refractive error. Vision tests administered to children in schools, for example, often can’t detect hyperopia, because they tend to focus on distance vision over near vision.
This is one reason why it’s so important to have regular eye exams at every stage of life!
If hyperopia is affecting your vision and quality of life, you have multiple treatment options.
Glasses correct hyperopia with prescription lenses set in the frames of your choice. The lenses help light to focus directly on the retina rather than behind it, making your near vision crisp and clear (and your fashion sense sophisticated).
Depending on the severity of your farsightedness, you may need to wear your glasses all the time or only as needed.
Prescription contact lenses treat hyperopia in the same way that glasses do, only they’re worn right on top of the surface of your eye. For many people, contacts are a convenient and comfortable option that allow you to “forget” you’re wearing corrective lenses (until it’s time to take them out, of course).
Contacts are typically changed daily, biweekly, or monthly depending on the type you purchase. They require their own prescription and fitting from your eye doctor, so make sure to ask about them at your exam if you think they might be right for you.
Once you know your contact prescription (or your doctor does), you can easily order contact lenses online.
Some people with hyperopia opt for surgical procedures such as LASIK and PRK. These surgeries reshape the cornea at the front of the eye to correct the refractive error, and should only be performed by a qualified ophthalmologist.
Although many people are satisfied with the results of their surgery, it’s definitely the most pricey hyperopia treatment.
Hyperopia Control and Prevention
Living with hyperopia usually doesn’t present many complications, as long as you seek out the proper care. In children, leaving hyperopia untreated can lead to further vision problems and even difficulty learning in school, so getting an accurate diagnosis from an eye doctor is of the utmost importance.
Can Hyperopia Be Prevented?
No; scientists haven’t yet discovered a way to reliably prevent hyperopia from developing.
Does Hyperopia Change or Get Worse Over Time?
Hyperopia may get more pronounced over time, but eye doctors can typically adjust your prescription to suit any changes. Regular eye exams will ensure that your corrective lenses are up to date.
If your vision gets suddenly and notably worse, or if you’re experiencing any new eye-related symptoms, always get your eyes checked immediately.
Have Hyperopia? Have Hope!
Although it’s less common than nearsightedness, farsightedness is still a widespread refractive error with multiple treatment options.
If you have hyperopia, your eye doctor can direct you to the best next steps, whether it’s glasses, contacts, or enormous books meant to be read from 10 feet away (they won’t recommend that last one, we promise).