Astigmatism often comes up in discussion between eye doctor and patient.

“Astigmatism” is such a big, long scary word, and please note that the word starts with the letter “a” so a person does not have “the stigmatism” or “a stigmatism.” Further, a person does not have “an astigmatism” – it’s not a “thing” as if you could see it in a mirror, it is a condition. Because of this, people might automatically think it is something scary.

Here’s the not-so-spooky skinny on astigmatism.

Like nearsightedness and farsightedness, astigmatism is a refractive error; that is, something that makes a person’s vision blurry. This does not mean something is necessarily pathologically wrong with the eye regarding the eye’s health. It simply means that the optical system of the eye doesn’t quite focus correctly and a person might need glasses or contact lenses to help them see better; maybe even surgery if a person elects to do so. A misconception about corrective lenses is they permanently fix something like pain medication might “fix” a headache or an antibiotic might “fix” an infection. “Correct” in this use refers to correcting the error of the optical system of the eye so that the eye can see properly. If you take off the glasses, the error is still there no matter how often the glasses are worn; glasses don’t fix or cure, they compensate.

Astigmatism simply implies the eye (usually the cornea, the front of the eye) is curved slightly more one way than the other. This curve causes the light to bend in such a way that prevents the clarity of the image the eye is trying to see – that’s it. The vast majority of folks who have astigmatism just need that type of curvature in their corrective lenses to help them see their best.

Astigmatism does not necessarily run in your family. It does not necessarily progress such that a person ever loses vision from it. A person might have a pathologic amount of astigmatism that could indicate other issues, but that is relatively rare. Some folks have a strong amount of astigmatism, but by and large, the right glasses or contact lenses still help them to see just fine.

So, should a person be concerned when their eye doctor says, “you have some astigmatism?” No, not usually. Your vision can still be clear with the proper lenses. Should you still get your eyes checked each year to find out if you have astigmatism – yes, but astigmatism is near the very bottom of the list of things that should worry folks about their vision. There are many more important conditions that warrant a yearly eye exam.

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