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What is astigmatism?

For an image to be seen clearly, the horizontal and vertical rays of light that reach the eye's optic system must form a focal point on the retina. Astigmatism is a refractive defect whereby the horizontal and vertical rays of light have different points of focus on the retina. It can be associated with both myopia and hypermetropia. 

In the majority of cases, it's due to a lack of symmetry (toricity) in the cornea which gives it an oval or elliptical shape that impedes proper focus on objects. The cause of this irregularity is usually genetically determined, although it can also arise as a consequence of trauma, after eye surgery like cataract surgery, due to cornea ulcers or dislocation of intraocular lenses, etc. 

Signs and symptoms of astigmatism

An eye with astigmatism sees distorted images given that it cannot focus properly neither far nor near. Objects may appear much longer or wider, sometimes letters and numbers get confused and, on occasions, shadows may even appear. 

The most common signs and symptoms are:

  • Blurred or distorted vision
  • Tired eyes
  • Having to force your eyes to see
  • Headache

Interesting fact: It is believed that the Italian painter Amedeo Madigliani may have suffered from astigmatism due to the distorted images in his works. 

When should I go to the ophthalmologist?

Astigmatism cannot be prevented by can be detected with a full eye exam.

 

In childhood, an uncorrected astigatism may cause lazy eye (amblyopia). This situation can be avoided by correcting it with glasses before the age of 8. For this reason, it's essential to have an eye check-up, even in the absence of any symptoms.

The symptoms of astigmatism are the presence of blurred vision both in farsight and nearsight. 

A high astigmatism that progresses over time, associated with myopia in particular, may indicate the presence of a pathological change in the cornea like keratoconus.

What type of treatments currently exist?

The current treatment options for correcting astigmatism are: 

  • Correction with glasses and/or contact lenses 
    This is the simplest way of correcting astigmastism.
     
  • Laser cornea surgery
    LASIK, PRK and SMILE are most commonly used in an astigmatism operation for their safety and efficacy.
     
  • Intraocular lenses
    In selected cases, there are other surgical techniqes like toric, phakic intraocular lens implants (conserving the crystalline lens) or even pseudophakic intraocular lens implants (after the extraction of the crystalline lens or cataract).

Professionals who treat this pathology

Frequently asked questions

  • A dioptre is a unit of lens power, and its positive or negative power expresses the refractive power of a lens. The positive sign corresponds to the converging lens and the negative power corresponds to the diverging power. Converging lenses become the perfect way of correcting hypermetropia, prebyopia and other astigmatisms. 

    Diverging lenses are demarcated by two surfaces, one of them being concave. They have the ability to separate the rays that pass through it and make them "diverge". They are used in refraction to make up for the defects of myopia and som type of astigmatism.