Ask the Expert: What is astigmatism? How can it be corrected?

Answers by Mitchell Gossman, MD, an ophthalmologist at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota, located in St. Cloud


What is “astigmatism?” My doctor says it’s being corrected in my glasses.

The eye functions like a camera – the outside world is focused by the cornea and lens onto the retina where images are sensed, like the film (or image sensor in a digital camera) does in a camera. Astigmatism is one form of what’s called a “refractive error,” which requires correction, most commonly in glasses, in order to see clearly. Astigmatism causes images to be focused by the eye into a smeared, blurry image because the lens or cornea is football-shaped rather than a perfect, round shape. In addition to wearing glasses for this, it’s possible to wear a contact lens called a “toric contact lens” or undergo LASIK surgery.


But if you need to have cataract surgery, and you also have astigmatism, it’s possible to correct the astigmatism with the artificial lens implant and enjoy better vision without glasses. During cataract surgery, the cloudy lens of your eye is removed and replaced with this toric lens. Correction of astigmatism is not covered by insurance, so a fee applies, but with significantly better vision than a standard lens.


What is the most common cause of blurry vision?

“Refractive error” is the most common cause of blurry vision. In an otherwise healthy eye, the light entering the pupil may not be focused properly on the retina. It’s like having a camera with the focus set incorrectly. In this situation, it’s necessary to focus the image via other means, such as glasses, contacts, or adjustment of the focusing power of the eye itself with LASIK or lens implant when cataract surgery is performed. To determine the proper power to correct the vision, a procedure called a refraction is performed. This is usually performed on a routine basis once per year, and in fact some commercial insurance plans only cover a refraction once a year. You’ll know you are having a refraction performed when you are asked “which is better, one or two?” when offered to different lenses while looking at the eye chart. If the vision can’t be corrected to 20/20 or 20/25, there may be something wrong with your eye. We recommend having this refraction performed even if you’re happy with your current glasses so you don’t find yourself with broken or lost glasses and no glasses prescription to use.


Find out more

Mitchell Gossman, MD., and Andrea Joplin, MD., are ophthalmologists at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota in St. Cloud, and see patients from all over Central Minnesota and the St. Cloud area. They accept new patients, and appointments may be made at 320-774-3789.


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