Temporary Myopia: What I Learned from a Bug on My Windshield

I pulled out onto the highway a few days ago and drove a mile or so before I noticed it – a bug right in the middle of my windshield. It was so small that it wasn’t really impairing my field of vision, and it definitely wasn’t big enough to block out the cars around me on the road. I could clearly see over and around it in every direction.

As I kept driving, I noticed a strange visual phenomena happening every time I stared directly at the bug…everything around it became fuzzy. If I looked right at it and tried to focus my eyes to see its details – the little legs or antennae – I couldn’t see the road or the other traffic. I couldn’t read any billboards or license plates as long as my eyes were fixed on the bug.

After I took my eyes away, I was able to see the road and other vehicles again within a second or so. I kept testing it. I’d stare at the bug, and everything would get fuzzy. Then I’d stare at the road, and I could barely find that little bug.

Temporary myopia

The phenomenon called temporary myopia (myopia is a fancier way of saying nearsightedness) is what happens when your eyes work very hard to focus on something close up and your distance vision gets fuzzy. A good way to describe it is looking at a photo where the subject in the foreground is in focus and the subjects in the background are blurry.

Your eyes can readjust quickly to the bigger picture of your windshield, but those seconds are important when you’re driving. It only takes a second for a car to pull out in front of you, a stoplight to change color or for a car ahead to suddenly stop.

It’s not just staring at bugs on your windshield that’s dangerous. Temporary myopia is why texting or looking at your phone (or Apple watch) while driving is a really bad idea. Your eyes use different muscles to focus on staring at the screen and then must readjust to see the world around you through your windshield. So be careful and try to avoid this phenomenon while driving to keep you and everyone around you safe.

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