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Astigmatism and Contact Lenses

Astigmatism and Contact Lenses

Doc, Can I Wear Contact Lenses?

This is a question that the doctors of Brookside Optometric are asked on a daily basis.  And, in the vast majority of cases, the resounding answer is “Yes”!  Over 38 million Americans currently wear contact lenses.  Although that sounds like a big number, it actually only represents about 16% of those who would benefit from vision correction in the U.S.  So, why don’t more people wear contact lenses?  In many cases it’s because of common misconceptions.  Let’s focus on just one of them.

I was told I can’t wear contacts because I’ve got “a stigma”

Well, you don’t actually have disgraceful or defective eyes.  You simply have “astigmatism”, which is one of the more commonly misunderstood vision problems. Like nearsightedness (myopia) and farsightedness (hyperopia), astigmatism is a refractive error, meaning it is not an eye disease or eye health problem; it's simply a problem with how the eye focuses light.  Refractive errors are the primary reasons why people are prescribed glasses, contact lenses or pursue corrective refractive surgery. 

Astigmatism usually is caused by an irregularly shaped cornea (the clear front surface of your eye over your pupil where light enters your eye). Instead of the cornea having a symmetrically round shape (like a baseball), it is oblong shaped more like a football.  The surface of the eye is more curved in one direction and the less curved in the direction 90 degrees away.  Using a clock dial, for instance, the cornea may be more curved from 12:00 to 6:00 than it is from 9:00 to 3:00.  This would be like holding a football in front of you with the tips of the ball in your outstretched hands.  Upwards of over 40% of people who would benefit from some type of vision correction have some degree of astigmatism. 

Unfortunately, many doctors don’t take the time to explain astigmatism to people who are correcting their vision problems with glasses.  They just write the prescription and you can magically see clearly through your new glasses!  However, with moderate to large amounts of astigmatism in their prescription, a person has to know that if they wish to wear contact lenses that the different curves of their corneas have to be considered to make a contact lens fit properly and to achieve clear and stable vision.  

No so long ago, people who had astigmatism in their prescription were limited to wearing either “hard” or “rigid” lenses.  Soft contact lenses were available.  But, they were usually custom made and expensive.  That’s not the case today, even with very large amounts of astigmatism.  Soft contact lens options are now available in every common replacement schedule, including monthly disposable, two week disposable and even daily disposable lenses.  And, we should not totally forget some of the benefits of RGP (Rigid Gas Permeable) lenses, which in some cases can provide sharper vision, better health and more durability than soft contact lens options. 

So, don’t think that just because you’ve learned that you have astigmatism in your prescription that contact lenses are not a potential option for you!  Advancements in technology provide many options for your doctor to give you clear, comfortable and healthy contact lens alternatives to your glasses on a part-time or full-time basis.  Just tell us you’re interested and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

Here's a video that might prove helpful in understanding astigmatism:


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