Astigmatism: What it is and Why it Matters

By: Carolyn B. Hebson, MD

Astigmatism is not an eye disease but rather a type of refractive error, like nearsightedness or farsightedness, which causes a problem with how the eye focuses light. In an eye with astigmatism, light fails to come to a single focal point on the retina to produce clear vision. Instead, multiple focal points occur causing vision to be blurred to some degree at all distances.

Astigmatism occurs when the cornea is shaped more like an oblong football than a round basketball, giving the front surface of the eye an oval shape. In order to see clearly astigmatism must be corrected. This can occur with glasses or contact lenses, but also with refractive surgery (LASIK) or cataract surgery, depending on a patient’s age.
Patients age 18-50 with otherwise healthy eyes are often excellent LASIK candidates for the correction of their astigmatism. LASIK has evolved significantly over the past 20 years and is extremely accurate at treating high levels of astigmatism permanently. Patients age 50 and older may be better candidates for lens or cataract surgery. During this surgery the natural lens is removed and replaced by an artificial lens with astigmatism correction, called a toric intraocular lens. This is also a permanent method of astigmatism correction.

Cataract surgery has become the most commonly performed surgery in the U.S with 3 million Americans undergoing the procedure annually. Patients often have a friend or relative who does not wear glasses or only wears reading glasses after cataract surgery. There is often confusion as to why some patients are able to do this while others continue to require glasses full time post-operatively. The answer usually lies in their astigmatism. Patients who do not require glasses after cataract surgery either have minimal astigmatism to start with or chose to have their astigmatism corrected at the time of surgery.

Although surgical correction of astigmatism is not covered by Medicare or private insurance, patients who chose to have their astigmatism permanently corrected with surgery understand the value and convenience of clear vision. Imagine being able to drive, swim, watch television, and perform the activities that you enjoy without needing to wear your glasses or contact lenses full time.

At VisionFirst, we are well versed in the treatment of astigmatism and offer all available options for astigmatism correction. For patients who are best served by lens or cataract surgery we offer Lensx laser vision correction for low amounts of astigmatism and toric intraocular lens implants for higher levels of astigmatism. We have access to the most up-to-date technology available to achieve the visual outcome that you desire after surgery. Take our LASIK Self-Test to see if you may be a good candidate.

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