Glasses or contact lenses are the most common method of correcting short-sightedness (myopia). Laser surgery is also becoming increasingly popular.
Implanting artificial lenses in the eyes is a fairly new technique that’s used very occasionally if laser surgery is ineffective or not possible (for example, people with very severe short-sightedness).
Short-sightedness can usually be corrected using glasses made specifically to your prescription.
Wearing a lens made to your prescription will ensure light is focused onto the back of your eye (retina) correctly so distant objects don’t appear as blurry.
The thickness and weight of the lenses you need will depend on how short-sighted you are.
Your eyesight often changes as you get older, which means you may eventually need to use 2 pairs of glasses: 1 pair for close vision activities such as reading, and the other pair for distance vision activities, such as watching television.
Some people prefer to use bifocal lenses that allow them to see objects clearly that are both close up and far away without changing their glasses.
You can also get multifocal lenses that help you see nearby objects and those at middle and long distances (varifocal glasses).
Contact lenses can also be used to correct vision in the same way as glasses.
Some people prefer contact lenses to glasses because they’re lightweight and almost invisible, but some people find them more of a hassle than wearing glasses.
Contact lenses can be worn on a daily basis and discarded each day (daily disposables), or they can be disinfected and reused.
They can also be worn for a longer period of time, although eye specialists generally recommend that contact lenses aren’t worn overnight because of the risk of infection.
Some opticians very occasionally use a technique called orthokeratology.
This involves wearing a hard contact lens overnight to flatten the curvature of the cornea (the transparent layer at the front of the eye) so you can see better without a lens or glasses during the day.
It’s not a cure for short-sightedness because the cornea usually returns to its normal shape, but it may reduce reliance on lenses for some people.
Your optician can advise you about the most suitable type of contact lenses for you.
If you decide to wear contact lenses, it’s very important that you keep your lenses clean and hygienic to prevent eye infections.
Laser eye surgery involves using a laser to burn away small sections of your cornea to correct the curvature so light is better focused onto your retina.
There are 3 main types of laser eye surgery:
photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) – where a small amount of the cornea’s surface is removed, and a laser is used to remove tissue and change the shape of the cornea
laser epithelial keratomileusis (LASEK) – similar to PRK, but involves using alcohol to loosen the surface of the cornea so a flap of tissue can be lifted out of the way, while a laser is used to alter the shape of the cornea; the flap is then put back in place afterwards
laser in situ keratectomy (LASIK) – similar to LASEK, but a smaller flap of cornea is created
These procedures are usually carried out on an outpatient basis, so you won’t normally have to stay in hospital overnight.
The treatment usually takes less than 30 minutes to complete and a local anaesthetic is used to numb your eyes while it’s carried out.
All 3 laser eye surgery techniques produce similar results, but they tend to have different recovery times.
LASEK or LASIK are usually the preferred methods as they cause almost no pain and your vision will usually start to recover within a few hours or days. But your vision may not fully stabilise for up to a month.
PRK can be a bit painful and it can take several months for your vision to stabilise afterwards.
LASIK can only be carried out if your cornea is thick enough. If your cornea is thin, the risk of complications occurring, such as loss of vision, is too high.
LASEK and PRK may be possible if your cornea isn’t thick enough for LASIK.
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists has published a patient’s guide to refractive laser surgery (PDF, 364kb) and also has answers to specific questions about laser refractive surgery (PDF, 196kb).
You can also read guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) about laser surgery for the correction of refractive errors.
The results of all 3 techniques are usually good.
While it may not always be possible to completely cure your short-sightedness, around 9 out of 10 people experience a significant improvement in their vision.
Many people are able to meet the minimum vision requirements for driving.
Most people who have laser surgery report that they’re happy with the results.
But it’s important to realise that laser surgery may not necessarily improve your vision to the same degree as wearing corrective lenses.
Also, as with any type of surgery, laser surgery carries the risk of complications.
Risks and complications
Laser eye surgery does carry risks, including:
dry eyes – this will usually last a few months, during which time you can lubricate your eyes with special eye drops
removal of too much cornea tissue – this occurs in around 1 in 20 cases and could leave you with an eye that’s long-sighted
reduced night vision – this usually passes within 6 weeks
haze effect around bright lights – this will usually pass within 6 to 12 months
There’s also a small risk of potentially serious complications that could threaten your vision, such as the cornea becoming too thin or infected.
But these problems are rare, occurring in less than 1 in every 500 cases.
Make sure you understand all the risks involved before deciding to have laser eye surgery.