Astigmatism is a type of refractive error of the eye. Refractive errors cause blurred vision and are the most common reason why a person goes to see an eye professional.
Other types of refractive errors are:
People are able to see because the front part of the eye (cornea) is able to bend (refract) light and focus it onto the back surface of the eye, called the retina.
If the light rays are not clearly focused on the retina, the images you see may be blurry.
With astigmatism, the cornea is abnormally curved. This curve causes vision to be out of focus.
The cause of astigmatism is unknown. It is usually present from birth. Astigmatism often occurs together with nearsightedness or farsightedness. If astigmatism gets worse, it may be a sign of keratoconus.
Astigmatism is very common. It sometimes occurs after certain types of eye surgery, such as cataract surgery.
Astigmatism makes it difficult to see fine details, either close up or from a distance.
Mild astigmatism may not need to be corrected.
Glasses or contact lenses will correct astigmatism, but do not cure it.
Laser surgery can help change the shape of the cornea surface to eliminate astigmatism, along with nearsightedness or farsightedness.
Astigmatism may change with time, requiring new glasses or contact lenses. Laser vision correction can usually eliminate, or greatly reduce, astigmatism.
In children, uncorrected astigmatism in only one eye may cause amblyopia.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your health care provider or ophthalmologist if vision problems worsen, or do not improve with glasses or contact lenses.
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Olitsky SE, Hug D, Plummer L, Stass-Isern M. Abnormalities of refraction and accommodation. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 612.
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Update Date 9/2/2014
Updated by: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.