Symptoms of Astigmatism

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Astigmatism is a common vision problem caused by an irregularly shaped cornea that prevents light from focusing properly on the retina, the light-sensitive surface at the back of the eye. The most common symptom is blurred or distorted vision at any distance. People with astigmatism may also have eye strain, headaches, squinting to try to see clearly, or eye discomfort.

People with a mild form of astigmatism may not notice any symptoms. It's important to note that some symptoms of astigmatism can be related to other eye problems. It is therefore essential to receive regular eye exams. This is especially true for children, who may not realize anything is wrong with their vision.

Frequent Symptoms

Symptoms can range from mildly blurred vision to severe eye strain, squinting, and headaches.

Blurred Vision

The most common symptom of astigmatism is blurred vision. Astigmatism occurs because the eye has a different shape than normal. A normal eye has a round shape, while one with astigmatism is shaped like a football, which makes light rays unable to focus at a single point. This results in blurred vision at any distance. Sometimes the blurry vision is mild and goes unnoticed in people with astigmatism.

Refractive Errors

Astigmatism is a form of refractive error, which affects how the eyes bend or refract light. Other types of conditions that are also refractive errors include myopia (nearsightedness) and hyperopia (farsightedness)—and astigmatism can play a role in each of these conditions, as well.

Double Vision

When the eyes are not aligned, the same object will appear doubled. Many problems can lead to double vision, including cataracts, strabismus, and astigmatism. 

People with severe cases of astigmatism may have monocular double vision. It's a type of vision phenomenon that happens in just one eye.

Eye Strain

Eye strain is a common symptom of astigmatism. People with astigmatism often feel that their eyes are tired or sensitive to light. The problem can appear when they read a book or look at a screen, for example, and go away when the activity stops. Eye strain can last from a few minutes to several hours, and can be followed by other symptoms, including: 

  • Eye pain
  • Dry eyes
  • Itching or burning eyes
  • Squinting
  • Headaches, especially around your eyes and forehead
  • Blurred or doubled vision
  • Poor concentration
  • Eye twitching
  • Photophobia (light sensitivity)

Headaches

Astigmatism is a refractive problem that forces the eye muscles to try to focus images properly. The excessive straining and squinting can trigger headaches, but they can also be linked to other vision problems. Although headaches are a common problem, when people notice they are combined with sudden changes in vision, they should schedule an eye doctor appointment as soon as possible.

Low Night Vision

The irregular shape of the eye with astigmatism prevents light from focusing correctly on the retina, causing blurry and distorted vision. People with astigmatism will struggle to see images clearly, especially in a dark environment. At night, vision declines even more since the eye needs to dilate to let more light in. As the pupil dilates, or gets larger, more peripheral light rays enter the eye, causing even more blur. This can make driving at night more difficult.

Excessive Squinting

People with astigmatism squint a lot because the eye muscles are constantly trying to solve the focusing problem.

Complications

Astigmatism is a common problem, occurring in about one in three people in the United States and may occur in combination with near- or farsightedness. It can lead to severe complications if left untreated, including:

  • Keratoconus: This condition happens when astigmatism gets steadily worse over time. In keratoconus, the cornea gets progressively thinner in one area and begins to bulge. If it progresses, it can result in corneal scarring, which can lead to vision loss. Some people with keratoconus report vision fluctuating frequently. In some cases, it may take years for people to notice any change in vision. People with this condition also report that their vision doesn't improve much with corrective glasses.
  • Amblyopia: Blur induced by uncorrected astigmatism during early development can result in amblyopia. It can happen if one eye is affected by astigmatism or both eyes are affected unequally. People born with astigmatism may have this problem, which is also known as lazy eye because the brain doesn't respond to the signs it receives from the affected eye. When it is diagnosed in the early stage, it can be fixed with wearing eye patches and/or wearing glasses full-time. Some cases may require surgery, which is often performed at a young age.

When to See a Doctor

The symptoms of astigmatism are often mild and can go unnoticed. However, when the symptoms are constant and make daily activities like driving or reading more difficult, it is important to get a comprehensive eye exam. Usually, you can correct mild to moderate astigmatism with eyeglasses or contact lenses. Eyeglasses contain a special cylindrical lens prescription that compensates for astigmatism and provides additional power in specific parts of the lens. Generally, a single-vision lens is prescribed to provide clear vision at all distances.

If you're under the age of 65, it's crucial to have your eyes checked every two years to detect astigmatism and any other problem early. People who over the age of 65 should receive an exam once a year. Everyone should schedule a visit with their optometrist or ophthalmologist if they notice any sudden changes in their vision. 

A Word From Verywell

Astigmatism is a common vision problem that is caused by an abnormality in the eye anatomy, so there is no way to prevent this problem. You can, however, catch astigmatism early and avoid letting it cause additional complications by getting your eyes checked regularly. A wide range of options are available to help you cope with and even correct your astigmatism. Consult your doctor to learn more about the best treatment for you.

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Article Sources
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