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What is Astigmatism, and Can It Be Treated with LASIK?

blurry vision caused by astigmatism

Astigmatism is a very common eye condition that affects vision. In some cases, it’s so mild that people don’t even notice it and won’t need it corrected. In more severe cases, however, the resulting blurred vision is more noticeable and will require diagnosis and treatment.

Astigmatism is often not the most obvious condition, so it’s important to meet with an optometrist regularly to have a comprehensive eye exam that will include a test for astigmatism. You should especially set up an appointment if you notice any of the common symptoms of astigmatism.

So What Causes Astigmatism?

Though the severity of the condition can vary widely, what causes astigmatism is always the same. Essentially, astigmatism is the result of an irregularly shaped cornea, which is the clear thin film that covers the front of the eye. This causes light coming into the eye to be refracted differently—the light doesn’t focus evenly on the retina, the part of the back of the eye that processes the light information and sends its messages to the brain via the optic nerve. The blurred images people with astigmatism see are the brain’s interpretations of this improperly focused light hitting the retina.

In an analogy in which a normal cornea is described as a basketball, an astigmatism-affected cornea is more like a football a football. Clearly, the two objects have very different curvatures, which is what causes light rays from a football-shaped cornea to focus at multiple points rather than one, resulting in out-of-focus vision.

Blurred vision is the hallmark of astigmatism. Only an optometrist can diagnose astigmatism, but there are several warning signs you should be aware of. Besides the blurred vision, symptoms can include squinting, eye strain, and headaches.

Related: The Painfully Obvious Reason Why Squinting Helps You Focus Better

Treatments for Astigmatism

Once an optometrist has diagnosed you with astigmatism, there are several treatment options you can consider. The simplest is a pair of eyeglasses. They are easy and safe to use and include a lens that adds power in specific parts to make up for the astigmatism.

Contact lenses are another popular option. They require more care and maintenance than glasses, though, since they lie directly on the eye. The standard soft lenses may not work as well for astigmatism as the rigid gas-permeable lenses do; the latter can help correct the shape of the cornea, which is the problem behind what causes astigmatism.

Is LASIK the Answer?

Many people also turn to laser surgery to fix their astigmatism. LASIK reshapes the cornea by removing tissue from its inner layer, thereby correcting the astigmatism. However, LASIK surgery does involve risks, including dry eyes, under-correction or over-correction based on how much of the cornea was removed, not being able to see well at night, and infection. You might not be the best candidate for LASIK if you have any of the following conditions: extreme nearsightedness, a compromised immune system from diseases like lupus or HIV, persistent dry eyes, glaucoma, thin corneas, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, and if you are often involved in contact sports.

Related: Considerations for Athletes Who Are Considering LASIK

Astigmatism is a serious condition that can end up affecting many aspects of your life. Healthy people with moderate to severe astigmatism are the best candidates for LASIK, a surgery that, when done right, can greatly improve your vision. Whether LASIK is the answer is an important decision to make, so set up an appointment with your optometrist today to discuss your options and whether LASIK is right for you.