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Astigmatism, what is It? The History & The Treatments

Astigmatism is a common refractive error that is caused by the eye not focusing light evenly on to the retina. For normal vision to occur, the eye should be shaped like a ball – however with astigmatism it is shaped like a cone. This results in vision gradually deteriorating and becoming blurry.

Our article today discusses the history of astigmatism, how it is diagnosed, and the treatment options that are available.

The Discovery of Astigmatism

In 1793, Thomas Young discovered the phenomenon of astigmatism while having problems with his own eyes. After much self-study and research, he presented his thoughts and theories in a ground-breaking lecture in 1801.

Meanwhile, George Biddell Airy was independently investigating the condition, and in 1825 was the first person to produce lenses that corrected astigmatism.

Although both of these men share credit for the initial recognition of the condition, the actual term ‘astigmatism’ was invented by William Whewell – a prominent English scientist and philosopher at the time.

How Is Astigmatism Caused?

The causes of astigmatism are still not known, although some research suggests that genetics have a prominent role in its development. Astigmatism is often present at birth, but it may also develop later in life as a result of an accident or injury to the eye.

The difference between a normal vision and astigmatism

The disease is commonly accompanied by either short-sightedness or long-sightedness. In each case, there is medical terminology that describes the condition:

  • Myopic astigmatism – the combination of short-sightedness and astigmatism.
  • Hyperopic astigmatism – when long-sightedness and astigmatism occur simultaneously.

Contrary to some popular beliefs, astigmatism cannot be caused by squinting or reading in low light.

Diagnosis & Treatment

An eye examination is used to diagnose astigmatism, and the condition is easily corrected in its early stages by wearing spectacles or contact lenses. In recent years, ongoing research has brought more comfortable contact lens options for patients, and both lenses and spectacles work by adjusting the angle at which light enters the eyes.

It is especially important for children to be diagnosed at an early age. Their astigmatism can then be treated effectively which may help to prevent the development of lazy eye.

Orthokeratology is a modern procedure that can also be used. It is a painless treatment that gradually reshapes the curvature of the cornea. This is achieved by patients wearing a series of specially designed lenses over a specified duration of time.

While sleeping the lenses mould the cornea so that when the patient wakes up their cornea keeps to its moulded shape . However, orthokeratology is not a permanent fix – by the end of the day the cornea will start to revert back to its original shape.

Laser surgery is now becoming the treatment of choice as it can quickly and effectively correct many degrees of astigmatism. The laser is used to burn away tiny amounts of eye tissue to help reshape the cornea and normalise eyesight.

As a rule of thumb, 85% of glasses and hard lens wearers, and 95% of soft lens users are suitable for astigmatism correction using laser.

Another advantage is that the risk of infection using laser is small. Vision loss associated with contact lenses pose a greater risk than laser eye surgery, according to research carried out by Oregon Health and Science University. They found that the risk associated with laser surgery is lower than that with a lifetime of contact lens use, and this risk was highest in patients who wore extended wear contact lenses (those you sleep in).

At AVC, our surgeons have years of experience in laser astigmatism treatments and provide industry leading results for our patients. If you would like to know more about the laser treatment process, simply call our friendly team for more information on 0800 652 4878.

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