Astigmatism: What it is and How To Treat It

  • BY Lainie Petersen

As I child I had an eye exam that perplexed me. I didn’t need glasses, but the doctor said I had a “stigmatism” in my right eye. I reported this to my mother, who noted that my eye was not a social outcast (stigma, get it?), but that I had a condition called “astigmatism.”

I wasn’t sure about what she meant, as I could see just fine and the eye doc saw no need for glasses. Still, over the years the word kept coming up and when I recently went for an eye exam the doctor explained that in addition to needing reading glasses, the astigmatism in my right eye could be corrected by wearing bifocals. I finally decided to investigate this mysterious condition.

What Astigmatism Is

It turns out that astigmatism is a very common condition, one that frequently inspires visits to the eye doctor. A person who has astigmatism has an abnormality in the cornea which makes it hard to focus. This means that objects may appear as blurry. According to PubMed, many people are born with the condition, though certain types of eye surgery could also be the cause of some astigmatism cases.

Interestingly enough, mild cases of astigmatism may not require any treatment and may not even be noticed by its sufferers. I had my right-eye astigmatism for decades before old age presbyopia forced me into specs. While it’s definitely something that should be monitored through regular eye exams, many people with the condition function just fine without having to wear glasses.

Of course, if you find that your astigmatism is making it hard to read or view fine details, it’s time to talk to your eye doctor about your options. Another thing to keep in mind is that astigmatism in only one eye can cause a condition known as amblyopia or “lazy eye.” This condition has both vision-related and aesthetic consequences, so if you do hear the word “astigmatism” at your own, or your child’s, eye exam, talk to the doctor about appropriate follow-up care, including more frequent eye exams.


How To Treat Astigmatism

There are several ways of treating astigmatism, including prescription eyeglasses, contacts and laser surgery. For many people, eyeglasses are a simple, inexpensive and non-invasive choice. Single-vision glasses help correct a person’s vision and allow them to see details that were previously out of focus. For those people who have astigmatism in only one eye, neither eye will have to compensate for the shortcomings of the other, reducing or eliminating the risk of developing amblyopia.

In some cases, a person may have more than one eye condition that needs treatment. For many adults who have generally had good eyesight all their lives, getting treatment for astigmatism may only happen once they age into reading glasses. At that point, their doctor may give them the option of choosing regular readers, bifocals or progressives that can address all of their eye issues at the same time. While some people may prefer to stick with reading glasses, others may want to avoid the hassle of constantly removing and putting on glasses throughout the day.

There is also, of course, the real possibility that a person’s eyesight will significantly deteriorate with age, requiring a stronger prescription for both everyday wear and reading. Many people may decide to start wearing bifocals at a younger age so that they are quite used to them by the time their vision declines. Talk to your eye doctor if you are undecided about what to do.