Your Guide to Nearsighted vs. Farsighted

Medically Reviewed By Vicente Diaz, MD, MBA
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“Nearsighted” and “farsighted” refer to how well you can see objects. Being nearsighted means that you can see objects that are close to you more clearly. If you are farsighted, it means that you can see objects more clearly when they are farther away. The two conditions do have one thing in common: Neither is an eye disease. Instead, nearsightedness and farsightedness are disorders in how the eye focuses. Nearsightedness is also known as “myopia,” while farsightedness is often called “hyperopia.”

Many people with either condition also have astigmatism. Astigmatism occurs when the lens or the cornea of the eye has an irregular shape, causing light to bend in a different way than it should.

Read on to learn more about the difference between being nearsighted and farsighted.

What is the difference between nearsightedness and farsightedness?

A woman pretends that her hands are a telescope and looks through them.
1193052383 Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

The main difference between nearsightedness and farsightedness is how well you can see objects.

If you are nearsighted, you may be able to see objects closer to your face, while objects farther away will appear blurry. 

If you are farsighted, objects father away may appear more clear, but objects closer to you will be more blurry or hard to focus on. 

Nearsightedness causes and symptoms

Nearsightedness affects about 41.6% of people in the United States. It can occur for two reasons:

  • having a cornea that is too steeply curved
  • having an eye that is longer than usual

In either situation, the result is the same: Light rays that enter the eye deflect to the front of the retina instead of directly on it. The retina is the part of your eye that is responsible for telling your brain how to see images. So, if the light is not getting to the retina correctly, the images will be blurry.

Both nearsightedness and farsightedness are refractory disorders. 

Symptoms of nearsightedness include:

  • feeling like you have to strain your eyes to see
  • headaches
  • needing to squint to see objects properly
  • difficulty seeing objects far away
  • blurry vision

Nearsightedness often becomes apparent in children ages 8–12 years, so children may complain of headaches after trying to see the board at school, for instance.

Anyone can develop nearsightedness, but risk factors include

  • a family history of nearsightedness
  • some genetic disorders, such as Marfan syndrome
  • some eye conditions, such as retinopathy of prematurity

Farsightedness causes and symptoms

Like nearsightedness, farsightedness results from the light deflecting in the eye unusually. While nearsightedness occurs when the light is focused in front of the retina, farsightedness happens when the light is focused behind the retina. 

There are two causes of farsightedness: 

  • the eye being too short
  • the cornea of the eye being too flat

Symptoms of farsightedness include: 

  • headaches, especially when reading
  • difficulty seeing things close up
  • eyestrain or tired eyes

Farsightedness can also be genetic, meaning that it runs in the family. Many children are farsighted, and the condition may improve as they grow up.

Does my prescription mean I am nearsighted or farsighted? 

Looking at a prescription for glasses or contact lenses can be confusing, especially because the way a prescription is laid out may vary between prescriptions.

Here is an example of how an eye prescription might look:

OS -3.00 OD +1.50

The best way to read your prescription is to look at each number or abbreviation in turn. The information above is as follows:

  • OS: OS stands for oculus sinister, which means your left eye.
  • OD: OD stands for oculus dextrus, which means your right eye.
  • Plus (+) sign: A plus sign refers to how farsighted that eye is.
  • Minus (-) sign: A minus sign refers to how nearsighted that eye is.

So, with the example prescription above, the following information is represented:

  • The left eye is nearsighted.
  • The right eye is farsighted.

The further away from 0 the number is after the plus or minus sign, the more vision correction is required. These numbers use diopters (D) as a unit of measurement, so sometimes, your prescription might read like this instead:

OS -3.00 D OD +1.50 D

Is nearsightedness or farsightedness more common?

Nearsightedness is more common than farsightedness. For example, around 41.6% of people in the U.S. are nearsighted. On the other hand, farsightedness affects around 5–10% of U.S. individuals.

Astigmatism occurs in about 1 in every 3 people. This often accompanies being nearsighted or farsighted.

Can you be nearsighted and farsighted at the same time?

Although both eyes may bend light slightly differently, the eyes are not usually so different that one is nearsighted and the other is farsighted.

However, on rare occasions, the focusing strength of each eye may be significantly different. This is known as anisometropia.

With anisometropia, one eye may focus properly, while the other is nearsighted or farsighted. In some cases, one eye may also be farsighted while the other eye is nearsighted.

Nearsighted and farsighted vs. astigmatism

Astigmatism often occurs alongside nearsightedness or farsightedness. This refers to when the cornea or the lens has an irregular shape, such as being more of an oval shape rather than a circle, which results in blurry vision.

When you have either nearsightedness or farsightedness alongside astigmatism, this is known as having “refractive errors,” as they all occur due to the way the light bends. Each condition affects your ability to focus on objects.

Can nearsightedness and farsightedness be corrected?

It is possible to correct nearsighted and farsighted vision using glasses or contact lenses. Your eye doctor will prescribe the right option for you following a thorough eye exam.

Laser eye surgery such as LASIK may be an option for some adults wishing to correct nearsightedness or farsightedness. However, laser eye surgery carries risks, such as requiring further surgery or the presence of visual disturbances following the initial surgery. You may wish to wear glasses before considering contact lenses or surgery.

Contact your eye doctor if you wish to discuss laser eye surgery or switching from glasses to contact lenses.

When should I book an eye test?

Getting routine eye tests can help detect any signs of problems with your vision. Eye tests should take place every 2 years in otherwise healthy young people.

Some people are at greater risk of developing eye conditions than others. You may wish to book more frequent eye tests if you are:

  • over the age of 60 years
  • someone with a learning disability
  • aware of any family history of eye diseases
  • of a certain race, for example, if you are:
    • of African-Caribbean descent, as you may be more at risk of developing glaucoma
    • of Asian descent, as you may be more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy, wherein the retina becomes damaged

You may also wish to book an eye test if you are experiencing symptoms that affect your eyes or vision. These include:

  • pain in one or both of your eyes
  • redness in or around the eyes
  • double vision
  • seeing circles or halos around light
  • seeing flashes of light
  • seeing tiny specks, or floaters, that seem to float in front of your eyes

Learn more about eye health here.

What happens during an eye exam?

An optometrist will perform a comprehensive eye exam to test for nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. 

Some examples of what to expect during a thorough eye exam include:

  • answering questions about your health history
  • reading letters of different sizes from a chart both at a distance and up close
  • undergoing refractory tests, wherein different lenses are placed in front of your eyes to see how well your eyes focus on light with different types of lenses
  • undergoing tests to focus a circle of light on the cornea to see how it reflects
  • undergoing movement tests to see how well your eyes move independently and together

An eye exam will not be painful. In most cases, an eye exam takes under an hour to complete. 

Summary

Nearsightedness and farsightedness are both conditions that affect how well the eyes focus. Having nearsightedness means that you can see objects better when they are closer up. Having farsightedness means that your eyes focus better on objects that are farther away.

Astigmatism may appear alongside nearsightedness and farsightedness. It causes blurry vision due to a misshapen cornea or lens. Around 1 in 3 people have astigmatism, while nearsightedness is the most common of the three conditions.

Getting regular eye tests can help detect any signs that you are nearsighted or farsighted. Eyeglasses, contact lenses, or laser eye surgery may correct nearsighted or farsighted vision.

If you are experiencing blurry vision or having difficulty seeing objects either close up or far away, contact your eye doctor to book an eye test.

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Medical Reviewer: Vicente Diaz, MD, MBA
Last Review Date: 2022 Feb 23
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