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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Astigmatism

Last reviewed: September 3, 2012.

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:

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

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, causing vision to be out of focus.

The cause of astigmatism is unknown. It is usually present from birth, and often occurs together with nearsightedness or farsightedness.

Astigmatism is very common. It sometimes occurs after certain types of eye surgery, such as cataract surgery.

Symptoms

Astigmatism makes it difficult to see fine details, either close up or from a distance.

Signs and tests

Astigmatism is easily diagnosed by a standard eye exam with refraction test. Special tests are not usually required.

Children or others who cannot respond to a normal refraction test can have their refraction measured by a test that uses reflected light (retinoscopy).

Treatment

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.

Expectations (prognosis)

Astigmatism may change with time, requiring new glasses or contact lenses. Laser vision correction can usually eliminate, or greatly reduce, astigmatism.

Complications

In children, uncorrected astigmatism in only one eye may cause amblyopia.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider or ophthalmologist if vision problems worsen, or do not improve with glasses or contact lenses.

References

  1. 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: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 612.
  2. White PF, Scott CA. Contact lenses. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 3rd ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 2.9.
  3. Kramarevsky N, Hardten DR. Excimer laser photorefractive keratectomy. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 3rd ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 3.4.

Review Date: 9/3/2012.

Reviewed by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Franklin W. Lusby, MD, Ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Excimer laser versus phakic intraocular lenses for the correction of moderate to high short‐sightednessExcimer laser versus phakic intraocular lenses for the correction of moderate to high short‐sightedness
    Myopia is a condition in which the focusing power (refraction) of the eye is greater than that required for clear vision of distant objects. Myopia is a common cause of visual disability throughout the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has grouped myopia and uncorrected refractive error among the leading causes of blindness and vision impairment in the world. The overall power of the lens that would be needed to correct the myopia is expressed in diopters (D) of a sphere. Most people have some degree of astigmatism where the eye is better at focusing light in one meridian than it is at another. It is possible to combine the effect of any astigmatism with the overall focusing power of the eye as a spherical equivalent in diopters. There are two main types of surgical correction for moderate to high myopia; excimer laser and phakic intraocular lenses (IOLs). Excimer laser refractive surgery for myopia works by removing corneal stroma to lessen the refractive power of the cornea and to bring the image of a viewed object into focus onto the retina rather than in front of it. Phakic IOLs for the treatment of myopia work by diverging light rays so that the image of a viewed object is brought into focus onto the retina rather than in front of it. They can be placed either in the anterior chamber of the eye in front of the iris or in the posterior chamber of the eye between the iris and the natural lens.
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