Complete Guide to Astigmatism (5 FAQs & How to Fix it)

Many of us haven’t seen much of the outside world during the pandemic; however, if you suffer from a refractive error, this is an ongoing issue. Refractive errors are a very common eye disorder that causes your eyes to not clearly focus on images from the outside world.

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Refractive Errors are also known as Astigmatism

What is Astigmatism?

Astigmatism (pronounced uh-STIG-muh-tiz-um) is a very common eye disorder that is a result of your eye not being completely round. When the eyeball is shaped like a perfectly round ball, light is able to enter the eye and bend evenly to give you a clear image. However, if your eye has a curvature imperfection (or more oval shaped) light is angled more in one direction than another which provides only partial focus on an object. This curvature, and non-ideal refraction of light, causes objects to look blurry, wavy or distorted. Here are a few distinctions you should be aware of:

Is Astigmatism a Refractive Error?

It is a type of refractive error which occurs when your cornea or lens is curved more steeply in one direction than in another. Refractive errors occur when the shape of your eye prevents light from focusing correctly on your retina. In fact, it is one of the most common vision problems that impacts more than 150 million Americans. Eye exams are vital, as many don’t realize they could be seeing better with treatment. If you experience blurred vision, your optometrist can prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses to help you see clearly.

Refractive Errors At  a Glance

Types: 

  • Nearsightedness (myopia) makes far-away objects look blurry. 
  • Farsightedness (hyperopia) makes nearby objects look blurry.
  • Astigmatism makes both far-away & nearby objects look blurry or distorted.
  • Presbyopia is the gradual loss of your eyes’ ability to focus on nearby objects and becomes noticeable in your early to mid-40s and continues to worsen until around age 65.

Most Common Symptom: Blurred vision.

Diagnosis: Achieved via an eye exam.

What are Treatments? Eyeglasses, contact lenses or laser corrective surgery.

astigmatism

How Can You Tell If You Have Astigmatism?

See your optometrist! It is diagnosed by an eye exam that checks your eye health and refractive status that determines how your eyes bend light. Your optometrist will use various instruments, aim lights directly at your eyes, and look through several lenses to assess your eyes ability to bend light.

Symptoms may include:

  • Blurry or distorted vision
  • Eyestrain
  • Headaches
  • Trouble seeing at night

What to Expect During Your Assessment:

  • You look through a series of lenses to find the ones that give you the clearest vision.
  • A keratometer or topographer uses a circle of light to measure the curve of your cornea.
  • Your eye doctor will use an autorefractor to shine light into your eye and measure how it changes as it bounces off the back. This provides information to your eye doctor on the types of lenses that would help you, if you have an astigmatism.
astigmatism
Due to the light distortion from astigmatism, street lights and car lights may look streaky, fuzzy, or appear as halos.

5 Astigmatism Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Can You Go Blind From Astigmatism?

It does not cause blindness. It is a defect in the shape of the eye that causes light to refract incorrectly and results in distorted images. It causes blurred vision, eye strain, and headaches, and worsens over time, if left untreated.

2. Does Astigmatism Affect Night Vision?

Yes, astigmatism can negatively impact your night vision. Due to the light distortion from astigmatism, street lights and car lights may look streaky, fuzzy, or appear as halos, all of which can make it dangerous to drive at night.

3. Does Astigmatism Get Worse?

Yes, this eye condition only gets worse over time if left untreated. Blurred vision can, at times, be so severe it causes impairment. This is because without treatment, the skewed angle at which light enters your eye worsens, resulting in increasingly blurred and unclear vision.

Does Astigmatism Get Worse With Age?

Most eye conditions worsen over time and as we get older. Astigmatism typically stabilizes as you age – your eyelids lose their muscle tone, resulting in less pressure on the cornea that aids in maintaining its shape. Astigmatism can continue to progress as you age if you do a lot of near/computer work or rub your eyes a lot.

4. What Happens if Astigmatism Is Left Untreated?

If left untreated, astigmatism may cause eyestrain, headaches, and blurry vision. If you have astigmatism, you may not see objects in the distance or near without some form of distortion. Generally, astigmatism worsens if untreated. 

5. Can Children Get Astigmatism?

It is common for infants to be born affected but it frequently goes away within 12 months. As young children typically are unable to vocalize that they have a vision problem, it is important to keep an eye out for these below signs of a visual problem. Best practice is to start regular eye exams at about 6 months of age.

Behavioural Signs of Visual Problems:

  •  Squints, closes, or covers one eye.
  •  Tilts head while doing activities that are near (50cm+ away from eyes).
  •  Feels objects rather than looking at objects.
  •  Avoids looking at books and puzzles, prefers toys they can handle.
  •  Holding books too close to their face or holding their face too close to a desk surface.

You can’t get astigmatism from reading in low light or sitting too close to the TV.

astigmatism
Astigmatism with healthy eye. Diseases of the eye. Comparative illustration.

How Do You Fix Astigmatism?

Although it cannot be prevented, eye professionals can correct it if caught in time. Make sure to book your regular eye exam, your eyes depend on it. There are two treatments for astigmatism:

  1. Corrective Lenses. Glasses or contacts can correct almost all cases of astigmatism. Your eye doctor can prescribe a special type of soft contact lens called toric lenses, or eyeglasses, that aid in redirecting light to offset the misalignment. For more severe cases of astigmatism, your eye doctor may prescribe gas-permeable rigid contact lenses or recommend scleral lenses. Orthokeratology is also a viable option – this means wearing lenses while you sleep to help reshape your cornea (similar to how braces slowly correct the direction of teeth over time). Similar to braces, once your body starts to hold the new shape you can reduce how often you have to wear the lenses.
  2. Refractive Surgery. Laser surgery, such as LASIK and PRK, is able to change, or re-shape your cornea in order to correct the curvature imperfection. Ask your optometrist, as to be eligible for this option you typically need to have stable refractive error, healthy eyes with no retinal problems or corneal conditions. .