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What Is an Astigmatism? 3 Ways to Solve It

Astigmatism is a very common eye condition that affects one in three people. So if you have astigmatism, you don’t have to worry about encountering a stigma. But, you may have to worry about encountering dad jokes like this. Feel free to respond with a dramatic — and astigmatic — eye roll.

If your eyes are in fact astigmatic, you might experience some of the uncomfortable and inconvenient symptoms of astigmatism. But don’t worry, these symptoms will not affect your ability to give an eye roll. They include blurry vision, eye strain, frequent squinting, headaches, and poor nighttime vision.

However, many cases of astigmatism are so mild that they don’t cause any symptoms at all. So, what is astigmatism, how do you know if you have it, and what can you do about it?

We’ll explain everything you need to know about this eye condition, plus share your treatment options, including one option that might be more fun than you think.

What Is Astigmatism?

What is an astigmatism: anatomy of the eye infographic

Astigmatism is a condition where part of the eye — either the cornea or the lens — isn’t perfectly round. Instead it’s more of an oval. So, if a normal eye is shaped like a ping pong ball, an astigmatic eye is shaped like an egg.

Because the egg-shaped part of the eye can occur in two places, there are two types of astigmatism:

  • Corneal astigmatism: The cornea, or the surface of the eye, is egg-shaped.

  • Lenticular astigmatism: The lens, which is located inside the eye behind the cornea, is egg-shaped.

The egg-shaped curvature of the cornea or lens can also face different directions. So, you can have:

  • Vertical astigmatism: The shape of the cornea or lens looks like an egg standing upright, like an egg in an egg carton.

  • Horizontal astigmatism: The shape of the cornea or lens looks like an egg lying on its side, like if you were to place an egg on your kitchen counter.

  • Diagonal astigmatism: The shape of the cornea or lens looks like an egg turned diagonally, so instead of facing up-and-down or side-to-side, the egg-shape falls somewhere in between those two directions.

And to add to types and directions of astigmatism, you can also have regular or irregular astigmatism. So, with all these different elements, your astigmatism will be as unique as you.

  • Regular astigmatism: In regular astigmatism, the curvature of the cornea or lens is even and curves in one direction.

  • Irregular astigmatism: In irregular astigmatism, the curvature is uneven. It may be steeper toward one side of the curve than the other, and it may curve in multiple directions.

Regardless of which type of astigmatism you have and which direction the astigmatism faces, it will affect your vision in a similar way. But, to understand how astigmatism will affect your vision, you first need to understand how vision works normally.

How the Eye Works Normally

In a normal eye, the cornea and the lens are both round, which allows light rays to pass through the cornea and the lens in a single line, projecting a single image onto the retina at the back of the eye. This gives you clear vision.

How the Eye Works With Astigmatism

What is an astigmatism: normal eye vs. astigmatic eye infographic

With astigmatism, the cornea and the lens don’t align properly because their shapes don’t match — one is egg-shaped and one is round. So, when light tries to pass through the cornea and lens, it gets distorted, leading to a refractive error.

A refractive error is a fancy way of saying that the light gets bent in slightly different directions. Picture light passing through a sun catcher. It’s like that, although not quite as extreme (unless you have severe astigmatism).

So, instead of a single line of light projecting a single image, an astigmatic eye projects a couple of slightly different, overlapping images onto the retina. This refraction causes distorted vision.

What Causes Astigmatism?

Eye doctors can’t always pinpoint the exact cause of astigmatism. It’s often genetic. So, if one of your parents has astigmatism, you’re more likely to have it as well. But you can also develop astigmatism after a traumatic eye event, like an eye disease, eye injury, or eye surgery.

What Else Might Be Causing Your Blurry Vision?

Blurry vision is the main symptom of astigmatism, and it’s typically responsible for all the other symptoms associated with this condition. Blurry vision causes squinting, eye strain, and poor night vision — all of which work together to cause headaches.

But, blurry vision is an extremely common symptom that can accompany a lot of different vision conditions. The American Academy of Ophthalmology lists more than 40 eye conditions associated with blurred vision. Some of the more common ones include cataracts, glaucoma, and even nearsightedness and farsightedness.

So, if you’re experiencing blurry vision, especially if it started suddenly, you shouldn't try to self-diagnose. Instead, make an appointment with your optometrist or ophthalmologist. Your eye doctor will run a comprehensive eye exam to identify the exact cause of your vision problems and help you find a solution that works for you.

Can You Have Astigmatism With Other Eye Problems?

Diagram of vision disorders

Astigmatism alone will cause vision problems. But to make those problems worse, many people with astigmatism also have nearsightedness or farsightedness. (Just one more reason to visit your eye doctor!) Like astigmatism, nearsightedness and farsightedness are both types of refractive errors, but they affect your vision differently.

  • Nearsightedness: Also called myopia, nearsightedness is when you can see clearly up close but struggle to see objects that are far away. With this condition, the refractive error in your eye causes light to land in front of your retina instead of on your retina. People who are nearsighted need distance glasses.

  • Farsightedness: Also called hyperopia, farsightedness is when you can see objects that are far away but struggle to see objects that are up close. With this condition, the refractive error causes light to land behind your retina instead of on your retina. People who are farsighted need reading glasses. 

People can be either nearsighted or farsighted, but not both. However, you can be both nearsighted and astigmatic, or farsighted and astigmatic. And astigmatism can make you feel like you’re both nearsighted and farsighted because it will make your vision blurry all the time, regardless of the distance of different objects.

What Can You Do About Your Astigmatism?

There are a variety of different treatment options for astigmatism, from vision correction options like eyeglasses and contact lenses to surgical options like laser surgery. And not all levels of astigmatism require glasses or other treatments. Your eye doctor can help you choose the best option for your astigmatism and your lifestyle. Here’s a look at each one.

Eyeglasses for Astigmatism

Pair Eyewear's eyeglasses

Eyeglasses are the simplest option for solving astigmatism. Glasses for astigmatism are designed so that the lenses curve in a way that balances out the curvature of your eye. This allows light to pass through the glasses lens, your cornea, and the lens of your eye in a straight line so there’s no refractive error. And voilà! You have clear vision.

Once you get used to your new eyeglasses, they also have the fewest side effects of all of the vision correction options — unless you count style as a side effect!

At Pair Eyewear, our glasses are designed with snap-on Top Frames, so you can change the look of your eyeglasses anytime you change your mind, your mood, or your outfit. Astigmatism has never looked so good!

Contact Lenses for Astigmatism

You can also opt for contact lenses to pair with your eyeglasses. And yes, contacts should always be used in addition to, not instead of, glasses because contacts are not designed for 24/7 wear. You should only wear your contacts for 8-16 hours per day, depending on the advice of your doctor.

According to the National Institutes of Health, contact lenses can lead to red eye, dry eye, infection, and other adverse side effects. The risk of side effects is higher if you don’t follow your doctor’s instructions, so always be careful about wearing, cleaning, and throwing out your contacts according to directions.

For astigmatism, your eye doctor will typically prescribe toric lenses or rigid glass permeable (RGP) lenses. Toric lenses are a type of soft lens, so they tend to be more comfortable and easier to adjust to. But people with severe astigmatism often need RGP corrective lenses. RGP lenses last longer than soft lenses and provide better vision correction.

Unlike regular contact lenses, which are round, contact lenses for astigmatism will be shaped specifically to adjust for the shape of your astigmatism.

Eye Surgery for Astigmatism

The final option for correcting astigmatism is eye surgery. The most common eye surgery is photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), which is also called LASIK, laser surgery, or refractive surgery.

There are a few different types of refractive surgery. The differences mainly come down to the way that the laser reshapes your cornea. Your eye doctor can talk to you about the different surgical options and help you decide which one is best for your astigmatism.

While laser surgery has become a safe and reliable surgery over the last few decades, it isn’t right for everyone.

According to the National Eye Institute, people with dry eye, glaucoma, keratoconus, cataracts, large pupils, and frequent eye infections may experience more complications from eye surgery. And even people without these conditions can experience side effects that include dry eye, double vision, blurry vision, light sensitivity, and a halo effect.

Treat Your Eyes

Woman holding 3 pairs of eyeglasses

Astigmatism is a super common condition. And if you have it, you also have options. Your eye doctor can help you decide whether glasses, contacts, or eye surgery is the best option for you and your unique eyes.

And if you want an option that helps you show off your unique personality, try Pair Eyewear. Our glasses allow you to change your look everyday — or 10 times a day if you want!

Simply choose your Base Pair of glasses. They come in classic styles that include round, square, and cat-eye silhouettes. Then, add snap-on Top Frames in stylish patterns, like plaid, cheetah print, or polka dots. It’s a fun, functional, and fashionable solution for all your eye care needs. Treating your astigmatism can now feel more like a treat than a treatment.