Astigmatism is a fairly common disorder that affects one or both of the eyes. An individual who has astigmatism has at least one eye that is irregularly shaped. Instead of having a the normal round eyeball, the eye will be slightly oval in appearance.
Typically, a patient with astigmatism will have two abnormalities in the shape of the cornea. This will involve two minor curves – a steep curve and a shallow curve – which allow light to enter the eye at two separate points. A normal eye receives light in just one place, while a patient with astigmatism will suffer from blurred and sometimes double vision because of the shape of the cornea.
Most patients who have astigmatism are shortsighted, meaning that they can see objects that are close to them, but objects farther away will be difficult to make out. Lights will also be difficult to discern properly because the shape of the cornea causes light to bounce off the retina at an odd angle.
A smaller percentage of astigmatism sufferers experience the exact opposite problem. Depending on the angle at which light enters the eye, the patient may become farsighted, which means that close objects will be blurry and out of focus, while objects far away can be seen clearly.
Astigmatism is typically diagnosed during a routine eye exam, often during childhood. The patient may or may not have experienced any adverse symptoms of the astigmatism, as symptoms tend to escalate later in life. The optometrist will use corneal topography and refraction to confirm that the problem is astigmatism.
Specially formed eyeglasses or contact lenses will usually correct an astigmatism problem. In forming the lenses to counteract the astigmatism, light will be able to enter the eye at the correct angle. Most patients who suffer from astigmatism choose this solution until or unless the problem becomes a more debilitating issue.
For patients who suffer more strongly from astigmatism, or who simply do not wish to deal with glasses or contact lenses, laser eye therapy is an alternative solution. The surgeon will make a tiny incision in the front of the eye to correct the astigmatism. Often, multiple surgeries are required to completely correct the problem, and this is too painful, too expensive or too complex for many patients to handle.
If you think that you may suffer from astigmatism, the best thing to do is make an appointment with your optometrist. He or she can diagnose the problem and advise you of the solution that is right for you. Symptoms of astigmatism include, but are not limited to, blurred vision, nearsightedness, farsightedness, elongation of bright lights and blurred or tunnel vision.