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What is Astigmatism?

Surrounding your iris and pupil is your cornea, which is, under perfect circumstances, spherical. As light hits your eye from all angles, part of the role of your cornea is to focus that light, directing it at your retina, which is in the anterior portion of your eye. What does it mean if the cornea isn't perfectly round? The eye can't project the light properly on one focus on your retina, and your vision becomes blurred. Such a condition is called astigmatism.

Many individuals have astigmatism and the condition usually comes with other refractive issues such as nearsightedness or farsightedness. Astigmatism often occurs during childhood and can cause eye fatigue, headaches and squinting when untreated. In children, it may cause difficulty in the classroom, often with highly visual skills such as reading or writing. People who work with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer for long lengths might find that it can be problematic.

Astigmatism can be detected during an eye exam with an optometrist and afterwards properly diagnosed with either an automated refraction or a retinoscopy exam, which checks the amount of astigmatism. The condition is commonly corrected by contact lenses or glasses, or refractive surgery, which alters the flow of light onto the retina to readjust the focal point.

For contact lenses, the patient is usually prescribed toric lenses, which allow the light to bend more in one direction than another. Standard contact lenses generally move each time you close your eyes, even just to blink. But with astigmatism, the slightest eye movement can completely blur your vision. After you blink, toric lenses return to the same place on your eye to avoid this problem. You can find toric lenses in soft or rigid varieties, to be chosen depending on what is more comfortable for you.

In some cases, astigmatism can also be rectified using laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical procedure involving wearing hard lenses to slowly change the shape of the cornea over night. It's advisable to discuss options with your optometrist in order to decide what the best option is for your needs.

For help demonstrating the effects of astigmatism to young, small children, have them compare the back of two teaspoons – one circular and one oval. In the round spoon, an mirror image appears proportionate. In the oval one, their reflection will be skewed. And this is what astigmatism means for your vision; you wind up viewing the world stretched out a little.

A person's astigmatism can get better or worse gradually, so make sure that you're periodically visiting your optometrist for a comprehensive test. Also, be sure your 'back-to-school' list includes a trip to an optometrist. A considerable amount of your child's learning (and playing) is predominantly a function of their vision. You'll help your child get the most of his or her year with a full eye exam, which will help pick up any visual irregularities before they begin to affect education, play, or other extra-curricular activities.