Astigmatism (uh-STIG-muh-tiz-um) is a common, mild and generally easily treatable imperfection in the curvature of your eye. The condition can cause blurred vision.
Astigmatism occurs when the front surface of your eye (cornea) or the lens, inside your eye, has a slightly different surface curvature in one direction from the other. Instead of being even and smooth in all directions, the surface may have some areas that are flatter or steeper.
Signs and symptoms of astigmatism may include:
- Blurred or distorted vision
Your eye has two parts that focus images — the cornea and the lens. In a perfectly shaped eye, each of these focusing elements has a perfectly smooth curvature, like the surface of a smooth ball. A cornea or lens with such a surface curvature bends (refracts) all incoming light the same way and makes a sharply focused image on the back of your eye (retina).
However, if your cornea or lens isn’t evenly and smoothly curved, the light rays aren’t refracted properly. This causes a refractive error. Astigmatism is one type of refractive error. In astigmatism, your cornea or lens is curved more steeply in one direction than in another. When the cornea has a distorted shape, you have corneal astigmatism. When the lens is distorted, you have lenticular astigmatism. Either type of astigmatism can cause blurred vision. Blurred vision may occur more in one direction — either horizontally, vertically or diagonally.
Astigmatism may occur in combination with other refractive errors, which include:
- Nearsightedness (myopia). This occurs when your cornea is curved too much or your eye is longer than normal. Instead of being focused precisely on your retina, light is focused in front of your retina, resulting in a blurry appearance for distant objects.
- Farsightedness (hyperopia). This occurs when your cornea is curved too little or your eye is shorter than normal. The effect is the opposite of nearsightedness. When your eye is in a relaxed state, light is focused behind the back of your eye, making nearby objects blurry.
Astigmatism may be present from birth, or it may develop after an eye injury, disease or surgery. Astigmatism isn’t caused or made worse by reading in poor light, sitting too close to the television or squinting.
The goal of treating astigmatism is to address the uneven curvature that’s causing your blurred vision. Treatments include wearing corrective lenses or undergoing refractive surgery.
Wearing corrective lenses treats astigmatism by counteracting the uneven curvature of your cornea. Types of corrective lenses are:
- Eyeglasses – Eyeglasses can be made with special lenses that help compensate for the uneven shape of your eye. In addition to correcting astigmatism, eyeglasses can also correct for other refractive errors, such as nearsightedness or farsightedness
- Contact lenses – Like eyeglasses, contact lenses can correct astigmatism. A wide variety of contact lenses are available — soft, extended wear, disposable, rigid gas permeable and bifocal. Ask your eye doctor about the pros and cons of each and which contact lenses might be best for you.
Astigmatism can be treated with refractive surgery, as well. The two most common surgical corrections are LASIK or PRK. These surgeries reshape the surface of your eye to compensate for the uneven curvatures in the cornea that create astigmatism.