Correcting astigmatism: Treatment options for clear vision
Astigmatism is a common type of refractive error; in fact, most people have some degree of astigmatism. Fortunately, astigmatism is easy to correct. If you have astigmatism, you should be able to achieve clear vision with eyeglasses, contact lenses or vision surgery.
The best treatment for you will depend on the type and severity of your astigmatism.
Astigmatism eyeglasses, contact lenses and surgery
To find out which method of correcting astigmatism is best for you (or if you have astigmatism), you’ll need to visit an eye doctor. During your visit, you’ll talk to your eye doctor about your vision symptoms and have a comprehensive eye exam that includes special astigmatism testing. This is how your eye doctor will make an accurate diagnosis and determine the exact prescription needed to correct your astigmatism.
The treatment method you choose, with your doctor’s guidance, will depend on your prescription, eye health, corneal thickness, routine daily activities and other factors.
Glasses for astigmatism are a popular, simple choice with a wide range of options. They can usually correct mild and moderate regular astigmatism to 20/20 vision. The lenses are crafted to address the asymmetrical curvature of the eyes.
Astigmatism contact lenses
Contact lenses are also a popular choice with several options. For people with mild or low regular astigmatism, standard soft contacts can sometimes correct it.
Moderate and high levels of regular astigmatism generally require toric or rigid gas permeable (RGP) contacts. For those who have irregular astigmatism, scleral contact lenses and customized RGP lenses are effective choices.
Astigmatism therapy (Orthokeratology)
Orthokeratology, also called corneal refractive therapy or Ortho-k, can be used to temporarily correct milder cases of astigmatism. This therapy involves wearing specially designed hard contacts overnight (removed upon waking) to slightly reshape the cornea. The effects usually last a day or two and go away if the contacts aren’t used regularly.
Having surgery is the only way to permanently correct astigmatism. However, your type and degree of astigmatism, corneal thickness, age and other eye conditions are all factors in whether surgery is the best option — and if so, which type of surgery.
There are several types of laser refractive surgery that can correct astigmatism by changing the shape of the cornea. They include:
LASIK – a small flap is created in the epithelium (upper layers of the cornea), which is then folded back so the laser can reshape the tissue underneath
LASEK – instead of creating a flap in the epithelium, it is loosened with a special solution and moved to the side to allow access the corneal tissue
Epi-LASIK – this procedure is very similar to LASEK, except the epithelium is loosened and moved aside with a blunt surgical tool instead of a solution
PRK – instead of folding or moving the epithelium aside, it is completely removed to access the corneal tissue and then grows back very quickly
SMILE – in this procedure, a precisely shaped bit of tissue is removed from within the cornea through a tiny incision, leaving the epithelium intact
There are also options for people who aren’t candidates for laser surgery or have other eye conditions. These include:
Cataract surgery with a toric lens replacement – during cataract surgery, the natural lens can be replaced with a toric lens to correct astigmatism
Refractive lens exchange – this is the same procedure as cataract surgery, but it’s done as a refractive error correction instead of for cataracts
Lens implants – this procedure is like having contact lenses put inside the eye; they are placed over or behind the iris, and the natural lens stays in place
Lens implants and lens exchanges are much more invasive than laser refractive surgeries and aren’t usually recommended for people who can achieve clear vision with glasses or contacts.
READ OUR FULL PAGE ON ASTIGMATISM SURGERY here.
The idea of eye exercises to improve astigmatism and other refractive errors has been around for a long time, but unfortunately, there is no evidence that they work.
The blurry and distorted vision that comes with astigmatism is caused by the shape of the cornea or lens. Eye exercises involve the rectus muscles of the eye (the muscles that move the eyes around). Training these muscles can help with amblyopia (lazy eye) and strabismus (crossed eyes), but it won’t change the shape of the cornea or lens.
However, some eye exercises may be able to relieve the eye strain and headaches associated with astigmatism. It’s important to talk to your eye doctor before trying them out.
Is astigmatism curable?
Astigmatism isn’t an illness or disease, so it’s not technically “curable.” It’s a refractive error, like nearsightedness and farsightedness, that’s caused by imperfections in the shape of the cornea or lens.
Laser and other types of surgery can permanently correct astigmatism, but there aren’t any medications or natural remedies that can. Very young children do, however, sometimes outgrow astigmatism.
HAVE MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT ASTIGMATISM? Check out these helpful astigmatism FAQs.
Page updated September 2020