Living with myopia (short-sighted)

Up to one in three people have myopia (Source: NHS), meaning it's a common condition. Most people living with myopia (known as short-sightedness or near-sightedness) will have their eyesight corrected simply by wearing prescription glasses or contact lenses.  Some people can develop more severe short-sightedness called high myopia, or in rare cases, degenerative myopia. This can increase your chance of having other eye conditions such as retinal detachment, glaucoma and cataracts.   

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Living with high myopia

It’s important to have regular eye exams to check your sight and general eye health, especially when you're very myopic. The NHS recommends having an eye test at least every two years. 

Your optician will give you an up-to-date prescription for glasses or contact lenses. If your prescription is -10D or greater, you can get a complex lens voucher from the NHS to help with the cost of glasses.

Myopia can progress through childhood, so children need to have regular eye tests too. Children get free eye tests with the NHS and help with the cost of prescription glasses.  

At regular eye tests, your optometrist will measure the strength of your myopia and check for any degenerative changes to the retina at the back of the eye (known as pathological myopia or degenerative myopia). This is more likely if you have severe myopia, which increases the chance of other eye conditions such as retinal detachment, glaucoma, and cataracts. Not everyone with severe myopia goes on to have pathological myopia.

There are things you can do to look after your general eye health: 

  • Reduce eye strain by taking plenty of breaks when using computers or digital devices. Try looking away for 20 seconds, at something 20 feet away, every 20 minutes.
  • Wear sunglasses in bright conditions to protect your eyes from UV light.
  • Get treatment for health conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure that can affect your eye health.
  • Always see your optician if you notice any changes to your sight or have any concerns.

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Living with degenerative myopia

If you have very high myopia, there's a greater chance of developing other eye problems affecting your vision. When you have severe myopia, and there have been changes to the retina at the back of the eye, you have degenerative myopia (also called pathological myopia). These changes happen due to the long shape of the eyeball affecting the retina, for example, stretching it thinner. 

Not all the changes that happen with pathological myopia will affect your vision, but they can increase the chance of vision problems and progress over time. You'll probably have regular check-ups with your ophthalmologist to monitor the condition. 

If you've been diagnosed with degenerative myopia:

  • You might feel anxious if you’re facing changes to your sight, which is entirely normal. Talking to someone about your feelings can help with the emotional aspects of sight loss. You can find support and local services with our Guide Line
  • New symptoms to be aware of include: seeing flashing lights, floaters, dark spots, a shadow across your vision, or sudden blurred or distorted vision. Call 111 for advice because you may need to see an optician urgently or to visit A&E.
  • There are many ways to make the most of your sight and easy adjustments to help with everyday life if your vision is significantly affected. Get ideas and support on making the most of your sight
  • If needed, your eye doctor or clinic may refer you for a low vision assessment (LVA) to get personalised advice. Local social services can also advise you about keeping safe at home and getting out and about safely too.
Always get medical help if you experience sudden changes to your vision.

Is there a cure for degenerative myopia?

Different types of changes can happen to the eye with pathological myopia. Some of these can be treated. For example, if new blood vessels grow behind the retina, anti-VEGF treatment may be used. This treatment is also used for some types of macular degeneration

Other changes can occur which can't be treated. When this happens, your eye care professional will give you advice and refer you for support to cope with any changes to your vision. 

Myopia and driving

If you have myopia, the chances are your sight will be good enough for driving while wearing prescription glasses or contact lenses, which correct the refractive error. Driving shouldn't be a problem as long as you have regular eye tests and an up-to-date prescription.

If you develop pathological myopia, however, glasses or contact lenses may not be able to correct your sight completely. Speak to your optician or ophthalmologist for advice. You’ll need to demonstrate your eyesight meets the minimum standard required by the DVLA to continue driving.

Frequently asked questions

Get in touch

You can contact us to find out about services and support tailored to your individual needs.

Medically reviewed by: The Royal College of Ophthalmologists on 28/07/2022

Edited by: Nick Astbury FRCS FRCOphth FRCP
Clinical Associate Professor

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists champions excellence in the practice of ophthalmology and is the only professional membership body for medically qualified ophthalmologists. The RCOphth is unable to offer direct advice to patients. If you’re concerned about the health of your eyes, you should seek medical advice from your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist.

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  • Living with myopia