Astigmatism 101: What is it, and How is it Treated?

Despite its somewhat intimidating name, astigmatism is quite a common condition, and it can be successfully treated using corrective lenses or surgical intervention.

Astigmatism is an ocular condition involving the malformation of either the cornea or the lens. In moderate-to-severe cases, this condition inhibits light from entering the retina efficiently, causing vision to become blurred at any distance, and sometimes triggering headaches, poor night vision, and eye irritation. Most people are either born with, or will develop, a very mild degree of astigmatism; many cases do not result in any noticeable vision abnormalities.

What causes astigmatism?

The precise cause of astigmatism isn’t known, but it does correlate with other conditions. Many people are born with an inherited astigmatism. It has been known to develop as one ages, and is often seen before the onset of cataracts. Astigmatism may also be a reaction to eye surgery or an eye injury. A rare condition called keratoconus causes a type of astigmatism where the cornea begins to deteriorate slowly and becomes increasingly misshapen. Severe keratoconus-related astigmatism can be treated with a surgical replacement of the cornea once the condition has become advanced.

How is astigmatism diagnosed?

If you have blurred vision at any distance – meaning you can’t see objects clearly no matter how near or far they are – you may have astigmatism. However, it very often appears with either myopia (nearsightedness) or hyperopia (farsightedness), so the degree of severity may not be apparent without a comprehensive evaluation. Here is what your eye care specialists will check when evaluating for astigmatism:

  • Visual acuity. Visual acuity is your ability to see symbols clearly at a specified distance. 20/20 vision is the ability to clearly read a letter or number from 20 feet that has been designated as being readable at a 20-foot distance.
  • The curve of the cornea. The keratometer is a tool that uses light to measure corneal curvature and assess the degree of astigmatism severity. Your eye care specialist may also use a corneal topographer, which is a more sophisticated instrument that offers greater detail of the cornea, providing a three-dimensional map of the corneal surface.
  • Refraction. This exam tests the focusing power of the eye using a device called the phoropter. It measures refractive error by placing a series of lenses before the patient, with the patient telling the optometrist which lenses produce the best correction.

What are astigmatism treatment options?

Depending upon the results of the examination, your optometrist may offer you the following correction solutions:

  • Eyeglasses. Eyeglasses remain the most common corrective measure for people with astigmatism. These may be single focus, or in the case with people with presbyopia, progressive lenses that address multiple distance issues.
  • Contact lenses. Contact lenses have an advantage over glasses because they can physically correct the shape of the cornea, provided they are gas permeable or rigid lenses. Soft contacts are not effective for astigmatism, because they adjust to the shape of the corneas instead of reshaping them.
  • Orthokeratology/Ortho-k. This procedure is the fitting of retainer contact lenses for corrective wear. The lenses reshape the corneas over time, improving the wearer’s vision even when corrective lenses or eyeglasses are not worn. While ortho-k does provide prolonged correction, the technique does not permanently alter the corneas; the retainer lenses must be worn periodically to ensure long-term results.
  • Surgical intervention/LASIK. LASIK (laser in situ keratomileusis) surgery is a process that reshapes the cornea by removing the inner tissue. This is a permanent solution, and it can fully correct moderate to severe astigmatism.

If you think you have any type of vision problem, including astigmatism, don’t hesitate to have a comprehensive eye evaluation performed.

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How Do I Read an Eyeglasses Prescription? Here’s What You Need to Know

If you’ve just received your first eyeglasses prescription you’re probably unfamiliar with the ciphers and terminology. In fact – you don’t understand a thing! Never fear – here’s a primer on vision prescriptions, which will help you better understand your eye health.

What do the notations mean?

The standard notations for visual acuity seem confusing, but they’re pretty straightforward once they’re translated. Here’s what you need to know.

Eyeglass prescriptions are generally transcribed on a graph. The abbreviations on the right-hand side are:

  • O.D. This abbreviation stands for oculus dexter, which is Latin for right eye.
  • O.S. This abbreviation stands for oculus sinister, which is Latin for left eye.
  • O.U. This abbreviation stands for oculus uterque, which is Latin for both eyes.

While these are the standard notations, many optometrists are now using the more accessible R.E., L.E., and O.E. (right eye, left eye, both eyes).

Along the top of the graph are terms relating to the condition of your vision. These terms are:

  • Sphere: This term relates to the prescribed strength of the corrective lenses needed to address either myopia (nearsightedness) or hyperopia (farsightedness).
  • Cylinder: This term is designated for the correction of astigmatism. If this section is blank, it means that patient either does not have astigmatism, or that it is so minor that it does not affect the patient’s vision.
  • Axis: For patients with astigmatism, this category notes the angle and direction of the corneal or lens curvature.
  • ADD: This space indicates that a bifocal or multifocal prescription is recommended.

What do the numbers mean?

Under the terms at the top of the chart are numbers which describe the strength of the required vision correction. The higher the number, the more intensive the necessary correction.

There will also be plus or minus signs alongside the numbers. A plus sign indicates farsightedness; a minus sign indicates nearsightedness.

What about the other stuff?

Your optometrist will often provide special instructions for the fabrication of your corrective lenses. These instructions are meant to provide the most comfortable correction and suit your lifestyle. For example, your eye care specialist may specify variable tint lenses or anti-glare coating.

Can my eyeglasses prescription be used for contact lenses?

Eyeglass prescriptions cannot be used interchangeably with contact lens prescriptions because eyeglass prescriptions lack details that can only be gathered from a contact lens fitting. The lens has to fit the unique curve of the eye, and the corrective power is different, since contact lenses sit directly upon the eye, while eyeglasses sit approximately 12 millimeters away from the eye.

Your eyeglass prescription is your property. It must be given to you whether you specifically request it or not, or whether or not you choose to have your prescription filled by the eye care center where you had your exam. You have the right to use your prescription at any eyewear retailer you wish.

It is advisable to have an eye exam every year to ensure your lenses are always providing the appropriate level of correction.

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Contact Lens Maintenance 101

Maintaining your contact lenses properly is crucial not only for ensuring your lenses perform correctly and comfortably, but also for preserving your eye health and hygiene – wearing improperly maintained contact lenses can lead to severe eye infections that may compromise your vision. Here are a few things to remember when caring for your contact lenses.

  • Do: Always adhere to the prescribed wearing schedule and timetable. Your contact lenses will have been designed to function properly for a set period of time. Contact lenses will begin to degrade if they are worn past the manufacturer’s recommended timeframe.
  • Don’t: Attempt to wear your contact lenses for longer than prescribed. Wearing contact lenses for days on end can be extremely dangerous to your vision. You risk trapping microbes under the lenses. These can flourish in the eyes, causing ulcers and corneal perforation that can lead to blindness.
  • Do: Keep your lenses sterile. Always meticulously clean your lenses after and before each wearing. Make sure your case is always scrupulously cleaned.
  • Don’t: Use any cleaning agent other than the prescribed contact lens solution. Moistening your lenses with anything other than the proper lens solution risks introducing bacteria and irritants into your lenses and eyes.
  • Do: Remove your contacts if you feel any discomfort. If you feel any redness, swelling, itching, or irritation, remove your contacts immediately. Visit your eye care professional if you experience any changes in your vision or prolonged discomfort.
  • Don’t: Allow the contact lens solution bottle tip to become contaminated. Merely touching the tip to your finger, eye, or any surface could expose it to potentially dangerous microbes.
  • Do: Thoroughly wash and dry your hands before handling your contacts. It’s also a good idea to keep your nails short to minimize the chance of exposing your lenses to hidden bacteria.
  • Don’t: Attempt to reuse contact lens solution. Change the solution in your case – don’t top off existing solution.
  • Do: Remove your contact lenses before sleep. While there are extended wear contact lenses, it’s still a good idea to remove them before bed to facilitate oxygen flow to the eyes and reduce chances of eye infection.
  • Don’t: Expose your contact lenses to water. Tap water – even filtered water – can damage contact lenses and introduce bacteria into the eye. Take out your lenses before swimming or showering or participating in any activity where your face may get wet.

These tips are basic guidelines for contact lens use and storage; always follow your optometrist’s or physician’s instructions for wearing and caring for your contact lenses.

Although contact lenses are a great vision correction solution that offer a wider field of vision than glasses, they might not be right for everyone. Here are a few conditions that may make wearing contact lenses challenging or ill-advised.

  • You are prone to eye infections or have highly sensitive eyes.
  • You either live or work in highly dusty conditions.
  • You experience significant allergies – watery, itchy eyes – with symptoms that persist even when they are being treated.
  • Your lifestyle or living situation makes it difficult for you to maintain your contact lenses properly.

Discuss your vision correction options with your optometrist before deciding on a solution.

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OptiExpress is a family-friendly eye care center, providing excellent deals for designer eyewear, contact lenses, and eye exams to the Fort Meyers and Cape Coral, Florida communities. Visit our experienced and licensed optometrists for an eye exam today!