Astigmatism: The facts you need to know

In April 2019, a simple tweet from Unusual Facts went viral and sent the Twittersphere into a spin about the state of their eye health. The tweet showed two images side by side. In the first image, the brake lights and traffic lights were streaked; in the second image, they were not. According to the author, image one is what a person with Astigmatism sees when looking at lights while image two is what someone without the condition sees.

Medical professionals were quick to jump in and point out that the image was completely inaccurate and should by no means lead to self-diagnosis. In fact, the only way to properly diagnose any eye issues is with a comprehensive eye test with an eye health professional. You can book yours here . To find out the facts about this eye condition, keep reading.

What is Astigmatism?

Astigmatism is a common eye condition that affects both near and far distance and results in mild to severe blurring. It isn’t an eye disease but a refractive error where the shape of your eye does not bend light correctly. People who have Myopia (nearsightedness) or Hyperopia (farsightedness) often have Astigmatism.

What are the symptoms?

A common symptom is a blurred and distorted vision to some degree at all distances. Some people may not notice any changes in vision but may experience eye strain, headaches, tiredness, difficulty driving at night, squinting or eye irritation. If you have any of these symptoms, we recommend booking an eye test .

Can it be treated?

Fortunately, most cases are easily treated with contact lenses or glasses, which will correct vision and help to make you much more comfortable. There is also a non-invasive procedure called orthokeratology (Ortho-k), which involves the patient wearing purpose-made contact lenses overnight in order to gradually reshape the cornea. Laser surgery can also treat some forms of Astigmatism.

What happens if I don’t get treatment?

Even mild astigmatism can cause headaches and eye strain so you should get an eye test as soon as possible. Sometimes your visual system can compensate for the astigmatism with extra effort of your focusing muscles, in essence masking the blur, but creating extra effort leading to discomfort. Prescriptions may need to be modified over time to ensure your vision is clear.

What causes Astigmatism?

If your eye isn’t perfectly round, you will have some degree of Astigmatism. The curvature of the eye determines whether you have the condition - if it’s shaped more like a football (as opposed to a soccer ball), then the eye is unable to focus the light precisely onto the retina. These differences in shape of the eyeball are not visible to other people and can only be detected/measured by an optometrist.

Astigmatism may be present at birth or develop gradually, so if you notice any changes in your vision, get it checked by an optometrist. It can also develop as a result of an eye injury or eye surgery. Astigmatism can also be hereditary, so if someone in your family has the condition, it is recommended to get your eyes tested too. Astigmatism symptoms can also be caused by other, more serious conditions. For instance, a the degenerative condition keratoconus often initially presents as astigmatism before increasingly reducing the patient’s vision, and usually needs to be treated in order to minimise permanent vision loss.

How is Astigmatism diagnosed?

Astigmatism can be detected with a standard eye test (sometimes called an eye health exam). The optometrist will shine light into your eyes while showing a series of lenses to see how well you can see. This is called retinoscopy and it allows the optometrist to estimate the amount of Astigmatism you have. The optometrist will then test how well the same lenses improve your vision for reading letters on the well-known eye chart. The test is not painful and will generally take between 30 minutes to an hour (as part of a more comprehensive examination). An eye test should form part of your regular health check routine. Regular eye tests check for any issues or changes in your eyes, many of which can only be detected by an optometrist. If you think you may have Astigmatism, book an eye test now to identify and treat as soon as possible. We also recommend a comprehensive eye health test for all people who have not seen an optometrist in the last two years, even if they don’t wear glasses or contacts. If you are over 60, an annual eye test is recommended. Many optometrists allow bulk billing, so you won’t be out of pocket.

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