Refractive Error

What Is a Refractive Error?

A refractive error is a type of vision problem in which the shape of your eye prevents light from focusing correctly on your retina. The retina is the layer of tissue at the back of your eye that is sensitive to light, passing impulses along your optic nerve to your brain to form a visual image.

According to the National Eye Institute, refractive errors are the most common type of vision problem, with more than 150 million Americans experiencing a refractive error of some kind. When left untreated, refractive errors can interfere with daily living activities that require clear vision, such as reading and driving.

Symptoms of Refractive Error

Blurry vision is the most common symptom of refractive error. Other symptoms you may experience include:

  • Seeing a glare/halo when looking at bright lights
  • Squinting to focus
  • Headaches
  • Tired eyes

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, call 405.271.6060 to schedule an appointment with one of our eye doctors. A comprehensive eye exam is the only way to know if your symptoms are related to a refractive error or to some other condition.

Types of Refractive Error

There are four common types of refractive error: nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), astigmatism, and presbyopia.

Nearsightedness (Myopia)

Nearsightedness is a condition where you can see objects up close clearly, but objects far away are blurry. This happens when the focal point of an image is in front of the retina instead of on it. A longer-than-normal eyeball, from front to back, typically causes this issue. In extreme cases, significant nearsightedness — also known as high myopia — can lead to a vision-threatening condition called retinal detachment.

Farsightedness (Hyperopia)

Farsightedness is a condition where you can see objects at a distance clearly, but objects up close are blurry. In this scenario, your eyeball is too short from front to back, creating a focal point that is behind the retina. Headaches and eye strain are common symptoms associated with farsightedness, as the eyes struggle to focus to read or perform other up-close tasks.


Astigmatism is a condition where the front surface of the eye, known as the cornea, isn’t smooth and curved equally in all directions as it should be. This abnormal curvature makes light focus on two different places in the eye, causing objects at all distances to appear blurry. A person can have astigmatism in conjunction with nearsightedness or farsightedness.


Presbyopia is a type of farsightedness that affects everyone as they age, usually after 40 years of age. Presbyopia occurs when the lens of your eye becomes more rigid due to the natural aging process and can no longer flex as it should to focus on near objects. You’ll notice this more when trying to read objects up close or in low-light conditions. Presbyopia can be found in combination with other refractive errors.

Treatments for Refractive Errors

There are two kinds of treatment for refractive errors — prescriptive corrective lenses or surgery. These options include:

  • Glasses – Prescriptive eyeglasses are the simplest way to treat refractive errors. Based on the results of a refraction test performed during a comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor will prescribe eyeglasses that correct your particular refractive error and give you clearer vision.
  • Contacts – Your eye doctor can also provide a prescription for contact lenses. Contacts correct refractive errors in a similar way to eyeglasses, but they’re worn on the surface of your eyes. Advances in contact lens technology have made this option available to more people with a wider range of refractive errors.
  • Refractive SurgeryLASIK and other refractive surgeries can change the shape of your cornea to reduce or eliminate nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. If you’d like to see if you’re a candidate for refractive surgery, please call 405.271.2500 to schedule an appointment.
  • Premium Cataract Surgery – During cataract surgery, the hardened natural lens of the eye is removed and replaced with a synthetic lens. With premium cataract surgery, you have different synthetic lens implant choices, including options that can correct for presbyopia and other refractive errors.

To schedule a premium cataract evaluation, call 405.271.6060.

Diagnosing Refractive Error in OKC, Edmond, and Lawton

The team of eye doctors at the Dean McGee Eye Institute is here to diagnose and treat any refractive errors you may have. It is especially important to have eye exams as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism typically manifest during childhood and adolescence. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

You can search our directory to find an optometrist or ophthalmologist near you or make an appointment by calling 405.271.6060. Don’t delay. Clearer vision awaits!