Understanding Astigmatism

Astigmatism is a condition caused by an imperfect shape of one or more components on the eye’s ocular pathway. The result is a refractive error, meaning the eye struggles to focus light clearly without help. Upwards of 40% of adults deal with astigmatism worldwide, making the condition quite common across the globe.

One type or the other

There are two primary forms of astigmatism. In corneal astigmatism, the front surface of the eye has an oval shape instead of being perfectly round. Lenticular astigmatism follows the same pattern but involves the lens the eye uses to focus light. Both types cause incoming light to refract unevenly and make objects appear unclear.

Finding the source

Individuals are typically born with astigmatism, but doctors have yet to figure out the reason why. There’s little doubt that the condition can be passed down from parents. Conditions such as keratoconus or cataracts can bring about astigmatism later in life. Other causes are eye injuries or the result of a surgical procedure.

Your assessment is a bit hazy

The most prevalent symptom of astigmatism is blurry or distorted vision. This occurs as light doesn’t travel to the correct spot at the back of the eye. Light refracted to multiple areas can lead to multiple images appearing as opposed to just one. The condition can also produce headaches, eye strain, or discomfort.

Hidden in plain sight

Eyecare specialists can perform a series of tests to determine whether astigmatism exists in one or both eyes. One such assessment is a refraction, where a physician or technician checks for refractive error. A device called a keratometer measures corneal curvature, where a topographer analyzes the same surface for imperfections. This information can be pooled together to create an accurate astigmatism assessment.

Can you see me now?

Patients with mild astigmatism may be able to tolerate the condition without any need for treatment, especially earlier in life. As time presses on, those same individuals may need some help to see clearly. Folks dealing with more severe astigmatism will likely need correction no matter what.

Looking through a lens

Glasses or contact lenses often work well at balancing the adverse effects of astigmatism. Both corrective lenses can be curved to compensate for the eye’s irregular shape and bring about clear sight. The refraction test is an integral step in determining which prescription to use. Contacts come in a soft form for mild to moderate cases or hard lenses for more severe astigmatism.

A laser light show

Refractive surgery is another option for astigmatism correction in patients who meet the criteria. LASIK and photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) reshape the cornea with a laser with the goal of clear vision. The downside here is these procedures aren’t usually covered by insurance.

Sorry, you’re not invited

LASIK and PRK aren’t for everyone, though. Besides cost, refractive procedures are only approved for patients over 18 years of age. Conversely, older individuals developing cataracts may be better suited for cataract surgery instead. Eye diseases present alongside astigmatism, refractive instability, or being active in contact sports can also impede surgery.

You’re absolutely correct

At the end of the day, astigmatism correction starts with a visit to the eye doctor. Only there can the condition be accurately identified using the latest tech. From there, an ophthalmologist can decipher the best methods for restoring clear sight.