What is Astigmatism?
Astigmatism is an abnormality in the curvature of the eye’s lens or cornea. As one of the most common eye conditions in the world, astigmatism is said to affect all of us to at least some degree. Indeed, research suggests that in the UK, 24% of individuals have astigmatic vision correction needs in both eyes, whilst 23% of individuals have the condition in one eye (these patients are referred to by optometrists as ‘monocular astigmats’).
It is important to note that astigmatism isn’t recognised as a disease of the eye, nor an issue related to the health, or hygiene of the eye itself. Conversely, astigmatism is a refractive error which, like myopia (also known as short-sightedness), hyperopia (also known as long-sightedness) and presbyopia, concern the inability of the eye to adequately focus light upon the retina of the eye. Astigmatism is generally understood to occur predominantly in patients who suffer from short-sightedness or long-sightedness, however, astigmatism diagnosis is a simple process, with a simple eye test quickly identifying the condition.
Whilst the name of this condition may be complicated, it can be simply explained as occurring in cases where the eye isn’t totally round. An irregular shape of the cornea of your eye will be diagnosed as corneal astigmatism which is the most common cause of astigmatism. Meanwhile, a distortion in the shape of the lens will be diagnosed as lenticular astigmatism. Regardless of either diagnosis, any type of astigmatism will affect your ability to see objects at both short and long distances, with objects normally appearing fuzzy, blurry or distorted.
Why Does the Size and Shape of My Eye Matter?
At Cathedral Eye Clinic, many patients who come through our doors ask the question: why does the size and shape of my eye matter?
Put simply, the ‘normal’ eye is shaped like a round ball. When light enters the healthy normal emmetropic eye it refracts the light onto a point on the light-sensitive retina called the fovea- this gives your eye a clear view of the subject in focus. However, those suffering from astigmatism are commonly said to have ‘rugby ball’ shaped eyes, comparable to the curvature seen in a spoon, for example. This abnormality in shape means that light refraction is imbalanced in one particular direction, with distant objects appearing unfocused as a consequence.
It is important to note that similar to conditions such as myopia or hyperopia, astigmatism can both occur from birth and gradually develop throughout life. It is also important to note that we all suffer from astigmatism to some level – so don’t panic if you think you may have or are developing the condition. It is also common for astigmatism to change throughout life and sometimes become more apparent as one approaches the age of presbyopia.
Astigmatism symptoms, as previously mentioned, are notably similar to symptoms seen in other refractive errors in the eye, such as myopia, hyperopia and presbyopia. The most commonly recognised astigmatism symptoms are:
- Blurred vision: Objects in focus at both a long and short distance may appear unclear or blurred.
- Double vision (diplopia): Patients suffering from astigmatism may focus upon one object, with the eye creating two images.
- Distorted vision: Areas of your field of vision may appear significantly distorted, depending on the severity of your condition.
- Eye strain: Your eye’s struggle to focus on objects at long and short distances will gradually lead to strained, tired eyes.
- Headaches: The constant struggle to focus on close and long distance objects may lead to tension headaches and migraines.
- Squinting: Focusing on long and close objects may lead to squinting, with two eyes facing in slightly different directions.
Astigmatism symptoms are common, and the condition is easily detectable with a simple eye exam available in Cathedral Eye Clinic. Indeed, instances of astigmatism will be identified in our rigorous pre-operative assessment, which includes highly complex eye scans. However, in the case of children, it should be remembered that symptoms may go unnoticed – this will have been the vision they are used to, after all. That is why it is recommended that your child receive regular eye tests with your optometrist (at least once every two years).
Like many eye conditions, astigmatism treatment comes in a range of options: prescription glasses, corrective contact lenses or refractive laser eye surgery. Cathedral Eye Clinic offers a range of treatments, and our experienced team of optometrists, ophthalmologists and nurses can assist you in identifying the correct treatment for your eyesight impairment.
- Prescription glasses: This is one of the less-invasive options for astigmatism treatment. The thickness of your lens will be determined by the specifics and severity of your condition. The staff at Cathedral Eye Clinic can guide you through this process.
- Corrective lenses: Lenses to treat astigmatism come in a range of soft or hard types for patients to choose from. Toric lenses are becoming an increasingly popular choice of astigmatism treatment: a design feature allows a rotation of the lens to properly orientate the cornea, enabling clearer vision.
- Laser refractive surgery: In certain cases of astigmatism, an optometrist may recommend laser refractive surgery. Cathedral Eye Clinic offers a range of treatments in this regard, and our team can quickly identify which type of treatment would be ideal. Three common surgery options are LASIK eye surgery (also known as laser in situ keratomileusis), photorefractive keratectomy and unique in Ireland to our facility is VisuMax SMILE laser eye surgery, which offers minimally invasive laser with minimal recovery time, highly suitable for those involved in elite or contact sports.
Bring your world into focus. To hear more about forms of astigmatism, as well as the range of treatments available to correct the condition, contact Cathedral Eye Clinic today.