If you’ve noticed that you’re experiencing an unusual amount of eyestrain, headaches, squinting or blurred and distorted vision at all distances, you may have astigmatism, which is an imperfection in the curvature of the eye’s cornea or lens. If you have this condition, you were probably born with it. Whether your astigmatism is mild or not so mild, it will require some form of medical correction for clear vision. Fortunately, most forms of regular astigmatism blurriness are easily correctable.
It’s All a Blur
Astigmatism is a common eye disorder, affecting about 1 in 3 people. It occurs when the cornea, which normally is round, is irregularly shaped – think football or egg. This form of astigmatism is known as corneal astigmatism. In other cases of astigmatism, the lens inside the eye is irregularly shaped. This is what’s known as lenticular astigmatism.
In a normal eye, the cornea and lens focus light rays on the retina. In astigmatism, images focus in front of and beyond the retina, causing both close and distant objects to appear blurry.
Astigmatism can also occur in combination with other vision problems, such as nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) or mixed, meaning you have characteristics of both near and farsightedness in your eyes.
Contrary to some old wives’ tales, reading in poor light or sitting too close to the TV doesn’t cause astigmatism.
Early and Regular Eye Checks Important
It’s been found that astigmatism can begin early in life. Sometimes it’s found in children as young as 5 and is considered one of the most common childhood vision problems.
Astigmatism is diagnosed by an eye exam, which makes regular checkups imperative.
According to the American Optometric Association, infants can have their first comprehensive eye exam by 6 months. After that, children should be checked at ages 3 and about age 5 or 6. Adults should have their eyes checked and dilated at least once a year.
It’s also worth noting that certain groups of people, more specifically, Hispanic and African-American children, were found in a recent study to have higher instances of astigmatism.
How it’s Treated
Unfortunately, astigmatism won’t go away in adults – in fact, it tends to get worse with age. It’s not all bad news, however. Astigmatism in very young children tends to go away by the time they’re about 9 or 10. Another good thing is that astigmatism is typically very easily managed with glasses or contacts.
Another option for correcting astigmatism is LASIK surgery, a procedure that utilizes precise lasers to correct vision. In most cases, astigmatism can be fully treated by LASIK. While there’s no set age for LASIK, it’s important to know that it’s only FDA-approved for people older than 18, and most doctors want their patients to have a stable eye prescription for at least two years before performing the surgery. There’s no timetable for an age at which LASIK can no longer be performed.
Talk with your eye doctor – they know your personal health history and will be able to make a good recommendation based on what they know about your eyes.
Dr. Amita Patel is an Optometrist at Kelsey-Seybold’s Clear Lake Clinic. Her clinical interests include glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. She has extensive experience in the diagnosis and treatment of ocular disease.