Astigmatism is an imperfection in the curvature of your eye’s cornea or lens. Normally, the cornea and lens are smooth and curved equally in all directions. This helps to focus light rays sharply onto the retina at the back of your eye. If your cornea or lens isn’t smooth and evenly curved, light rays aren’t refracted (bent) properly.
Doctors call this a refractive error. When your cornea has an irregular shape, you have corneal astigmatism. When the shape of your lens is distorted, you have lenticular astigmatism. In either case, your vision for both near and far objects is blurry or distorted. It’s almost like looking into a fun house mirror in which you can appear too tall, too short, too wide or too thin.
Adults with significant astigmatism may realize their vision isn’t as good as it should be. Children with astigmatism symptoms may not be aware they have this condition. They are unlikely to complain about blurred or distorted vision.
Uncorrected astigmatism can impact a child’s ability to achieve in school and sports. It is crucial that children have regular eye exams. Get these exams to detect astigmatism and other vision problems as early as possible.
Astigmatism is caused by an irregular curvature of the eye’s cornea or lens. If your cornea or lens isn’t evenly curved, light rays aren’t refracted properly.
With astigmatism you have blurred or distorted vision at near and far distances. Astigmatism is very common. Doctors don’t know why corneal shape differs from person to person. They do know that likelihood of developing astigmatism is inherited.
Astigmatism can develop after an eye disease, eye injury or surgery. It is a myth that astigmatism can develop or worsen from reading in low light or sitting very close to the television.
Astigmatism symptoms may include:
• blurry vision or areas of distorted vision
• squinting to try to see clearly, or
• eye discomfort
Your eye doctor will test you for astigmatism as part of your comprehensive eye exam.
Your eye doctor will test your visual acuity. He or she will ask you to read letters on an eye chart. This will determine the clarity of your vision at certain distances.
Your eye doctor may use several devices during your exam:
• A phoropter helps determine how to shape a lens to correct your vision. The doctor has you look through a series of lenses in front of your eyes, and asks which ones make your vision better. Based on your answers, the doctor determines the lenses that provide the clearest vision.
• Your doctor can also use an autorefractor to determine the corrective lenses you need. The autorefractor shines light into the eye and measures how it changes as it bounces off the back of the eye.
• A keratometer measures the curve of your cornea. Your eye doctor may also use corneal topography. This provides more information about the shape of the surface of the cornea.
These tests help your eye doctor to precisely diagnose and measure your astigmatism.
Surgery, including LASIK, may be an option for some people with astigmatism. Your ophthalmologist can discuss refractive surgery options with you.
Usually, you can correct mild to moderate astigmatism with eyeglasses or contact lenses. Glasses or contacts correct astigmatism by compensating for uneven curves in your cornea and lens.
Rigid contacts (RGP or GP) used to be the only contact lenses for astigmatism. This is no longer true. Now, soft lenses called toric contact lenses can correct astigmatism. These lenses may be appropriate for some people. If you have severe astigmatism, rigid contacts or glasses may be a better option.
Your eye doctor will discuss your lens options with you.
After an eye exam your doctor will hand you a prescription. But have you ever tried to read it?
Ophthalmologists and optometrists sometimes use different measurements for astigmatism. Their prescriptions may appear different depending on what type of provider you see. The optical shops who make the glasses or contacts have no problem understanding the prescription no matter who is providing it.
Astigmatism is measured in diopters. A perfect eye with no astigmatism has 0 diopters. Most people have between 0.5 to 0.75 diopters of astigmatism. People with a measurement of 1.5 or more typically need contacts or eyeglasses to have clear vision.
Of the three numbers on your contacts or glasses prescription, the last two refer to astigmatism:
• “Spherical” indicates whether you are nearsighted or farsighted. A plus sign indicates you are farsighted, a minus sign indicates you are nearsighted. The higher the number, the stronger your prescription.
• “Cylinder” measures what degree of astigmatism you have, or how flat or irregular your cornea is shaped.
• “Axis” is measured in degrees, and refers to where on the cornea the astigmatism is located. Axis numbers go from 0 to 180.