Astigmatism gets a bad rap. Maybe it’s because of the complicated name, or maybe it’s on us eye docs for doing a bad job of explaining it. Either way, here’s a simple explanation for the most common type of refractive error:
What It Is
Astigmatism simply means that either the front surface of your eye (called your cornea) or the lens inside your eye (called your intraocular lens) is not perfectly round and smooth like it should be. Instead, it’s wavy, causing whatever you’re looking at to be distorted. You can think of it like a funhouse mirror: some parts of what you’re seeing get stretched and other parts get squished. You can also think of it like looking through really old windows: since the glass isn’t perfectly smooth like modern windows, there are some distortions when you try to look through it.
How We Fix It
Glasses will fix virtually every type and power of astigmatism. Soft and hard contact lenses work well, too.
-Myth: Astigmatism is a serious eye disease.
Reality: Astigmatism is a perfectly normal part of most peoples’ refractive error.
-Myth: I can’t wear contact lenses if I have astigmatism.
Reality: You absolutely CAN wear contact lenses to correct astigmatism. Soft contact lenses for astigmatism (called toric lenses) are the best choice for most patients. And with companies like Acuvue now making higher toric lens powers (up to -2.75 DC of astigmatism!), we can correct even moderate to high amounts of astigmatism with soft contacts. Hard contact lenses are typically reserved for extreme cases of astigmatism and are very infrequently utilized these days.
–Myth: My eye is shaped like a football!
Reality: Relax, your eye is NOT shaped like a football. It’s round just like everyone else’s. Some doctor’s use the “football-shaped eye” analogy to attempt to explain astigmatism. What they’re trying to convey is that your cornea is really curved vertically and a little less curved horizontally, sort of like the side of a football or an egg shell.
Most folks have astigmatism, whether it’s a mild or moderate amount. The good news is we can easily correct for astigmatism by using the correct lens in your glasses or contact lenses.
Dr. Canaan Montgomery is an Optometrist in Paducah, KY. As an eye doctor in Paducah, he treats eye diseases, fits contact lenses, and sees pediatric eye care patients.