Astigmatism (eye)

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For the more general class of optical aberrations, see Astigmatism.
Astigmatism text blur.png
Blur from astigmatic lens at different distances
Classification and external resources
Specialty Ophthalmology
ICD-10 H52.2
ICD-9-CM 367.2
OMIM 603047
DiseasesDB 29648
MedlinePlus 001015
MeSH D001251

Astigmatism is an optical defect in which vision is blurred due to the inability of the optics of the eye to focus a point object into a sharp focused image on the retina. This may be due to an irregular or toric curvature of the cornea or lens. The two types of astigmatism are regular and irregular. Irregular astigmatism is often caused by a corneal scar or scattering in the crystalline lens, and cannot be corrected by standard spectacle lenses, but can be corrected by contact lenses. The more common regular astigmatism arising from either the cornea or crystalline lens can be corrected by eyeglasses or toric lenses. A 'toric' surface resembles a section of the surface of a Rugby ball or a doughnut where there are two regular radii, one smaller than the other one. This optical shape gives rise to astigmatism in the eye.[1]

The refractive error of the astigmatic eye stems from a difference in degree of curvature refraction of the two different meridians (i.e. the eye has different focal points in different planes). For example, the image may be clearly focused on the retina in the horizontal plane, but not in the vertical plane. Astigmatism causes difficulties in seeing fine detail resulting in blurred vision. Three options exist for the treatment of astigmatism: glasses, contact lenses (either hard contact lenses or toric contact lenses), and refractive surgery.

Signs and symptoms[edit]

Although astigmatism may be asymptomatic, higher degrees of an astigmatism may cause symptoms such as blurry vision, squinting, eye strain, fatigue, or headaches.[2] Some research has pointed to the link between astigmatism and higher prevalence of migraine headaches.[3]


Based on axis of the principal meridians[edit]

  • Regular astigmatism – principal meridians are perpendicular.
    • With-the-rule astigmatism – the vertical meridian is steepest (a rugby ball or American football lying on its side).[4]
    • Against-the-rule astigmatism – the horizontal meridian is steepest (a rugby ball or American football standing on its end).[4]
    • Oblique astigmatism – the steepest curve lies in between 120 and 150 degrees and 30 and 60 degrees.[4]
  • Irregular astigmatism – principal meridians are not perpendicular.

In with-the-rule astigmatism, a minus cylinder is placed in the horizontal axis to correct the refractive error (or a plus cylinder in the vertical axis). Adding a minus cylinder in the horizontal axis makes the horizontal axis "steeper" (or better: makes the vertical axis "less steep") which makes both axes equally "steep". In against-the-rule astigmatism, a plus cylinder is added in the horizontal axis (or a minus cylinder in the vertical axis).

Children tend to have with-the-rule astigmatism and elderly people tend to have against-the-rule astigmatism.

Axis is always recorded as an angle in degrees, between 0 and 180 degrees in a counter-clockwise direction. Both 0 and 180 degrees lie on a horizontal line at the level of the centre of the pupil, and as seen by an observer, 0 lies on the right of both the eyes.

Based on focus of the principal meridians[edit]

With accommodation relaxed:

  • Simple astigmatism
    • Simple hyperopic astigmatism – first focal line is on retina, while the second is located behind the retina.
    • Simple myopic astigmatism – first focal line is in front of the retina, while the second is on the retina.
  • Compound astigmatism
    • Compound hyperopic astigmatism – both focal lines are located behind the retina.
    • Compound myopic astigmatism – both focal lines are located in front of the retina.
  • Mixed astigmatism – focal lines are on both sides of the retina (straddling the retina)

Astigmatism throughout the eye[edit]

Astigmatism, whether it is regular or irregular, is caused by some combination of external (corneal surface) and internal (posterior corneal surface, human lens, fluids, retina, and eye-brain interface) optical properties. In some people, the external optics may have the greater influence, and in other people, the internal optics may predominate. Importantly, the axes and magnitudes of external and internal astigmatism do not necessarily coincide, but it is the combination of the two that by definition determines the overall optics of the eye. The overall optics of the eye are typically expressed by a person's refraction; the contribution of the external (anterior corneal) astigmatism is measured through the use of techniques such as keratometry and corneal topography. One method analyzes vectors for planning refractive surgery such that the surgery is apportioned optimally between both the refractive and topographic components.[5][6]


A number of tests are used during eye examinations to determine the presence of astigmatism and to quantify its amount and axis. A Snellen chart or other eye charts may initially reveal reduced visual acuity. A keratometer may be used to measure the curvature of the steepest and flattest meridians in the cornea's front surface.[7] Corneal topography may also be used to obtain a more accurate representation of the cornea's shape.[8] An autorefractor or retinoscopy may provide an objective estimate of the eye's refractive error and the use of Jackson cross cylinders in a phoropter or trial frame may be used to subjectively refine those measurements.[9][10][11] An alternative technique with the phoropter requires the use of a "clock dial" or "sunburst" chart to determine the astigmatic axis and power.[12][13] A keratometer may also be used to estimate astigmatism by finding the difference in power between the two primary meridians of the cornea. Javal's rule can then be used to compute the estimate of astigmatism.

A method of astigmatism analysis by Alpins may be used to determine both how much surgical change of the cornea is needed and after surgery to determine how close treatment was to the goal.[14]

Another rarely used refraction technique involves the use of a stenopaic slit (a thin slit aperture) where the refraction is determined in specific meridians – this technique is particularly useful in cases where the patient has a high degree of astigmatism or in refracting patients with irregular astigmatism.

There are three primary types of astigmatism, myopic astigmatism, hyperopic astigmatism and mixed astigmatism.


Astigmatism may be corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses, or refractive surgery. Various considerations involving eye health, refractive status, and lifestyle determine whether one option may be better than another. In those with keratoconus, certain contact lenses often enable patients to achieve better visual acuity than eyeglasses. Once only available in a rigid, gas-permeable form, toric lenses are now available also as soft lenses.

Laser eye surgery (LASIK and PRK) is successful in treating astigmatism.[15]


According to an American study published in Archives of Ophthalmology, nearly three in 10 children (28.4%) between the ages of five and 17 have astigmatism.[16] A recent Brazilian study found that 34% of the students in one city were astigmatic.[17] Regarding the prevalence in adults, a recent study in Bangladesh found that nearly 1 in 3 (32.4%) of those over the age of 30 had astigmatism.[18]

A recent Polish study revealed "with-the-rule astigmatism" may lead to the onset of myopia.[19]

A number of studies have found the prevalence of astigmatism increases with age.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mayo Clinic Staff (January 15, 2011). "Astigmatism". Mayo Clinic. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Astigmatism". MedicineNet. Retrieved 8 September 2013. 
  3. ^ Harle, Deacon E.; Evans, Bruce J. W. (2006). "The Correlation Between Migraine Headache and Refractive Errors". Optometry and Vision Science 83 (2): 82–7. doi:10.1097/01.opx.0000200680.95968.3e. PMID 16501409. 
  4. ^ a b c "Astigmatism". Buzzle. Retrieved 21 June 2008. [self-published source]
  5. ^ Alpins, NA (1997). "New method of targeting vectors to treat astigmatism". Journal of cataract and refractive surgery 23 (1): 65–75. doi:10.1016/s0886-3350(97)80153-8. PMID 9100110. 
  6. ^ Alpins, NA (1997). "Vector analysis of astigmatism changes by flattening, steepening, and torque". Journal of cataract and refractive surgery 23 (10): 1503–14. doi:10.1016/s0886-3350(97)80021-1. PMID 9456408. 
  7. ^ "Keratometry". St. Luke's Cataract & Laser Institute. Retrieved 8 September 2013. 
  8. ^ Corneal Topography and Imaging at eMedicine
  9. ^ Graff, T (1962). "Control of the determination of astigmatism with the Jackson cross cylinder". Klinische Monatsblatter fur Augenheilkunde und fur augenarztliche Fortbildung 140: 702–8. PMID 13900989. 
  10. ^ Del Priore, LV; Guyton, DL (1986). "The Jackson cross cylinder. A reappraisal". Ophthalmology 93 (11): 1461–5. doi:10.1016/s0161-6420(86)33545-0. PMID 3808608. 
  11. ^ Brookman, KE (1993). "The Jackson crossed cylinder: Historical perspective". Journal of the American Optometric Association 64 (5): 329–31. PMID 8320415. 
  12. ^ "Basic Refraction Procedures". Quantum Optical. Retrieved 8 September 2013. [unreliable medical source?]
  13. ^ "Introduction to Refraction". Nova Southeastern University. Retrieved 8 September 2013. [dead link]
  14. ^ Boyd, Benjamin F. (2011). Modern Ophthalmology The Highlights. Panama: Jaypee Brothers Medical Pub. p. 388. ISBN 9789962678168. 
  15. ^ Azar, Dimitri T. (2007). Refractive surgery (2nd ed.). Mosby Elsevier. ISBN 9780323035996. 
  16. ^ Kleinstein, R. N.; Jones, LA; Hullett, S; et al. (2003). "Refractive Error and Ethnicity in Children". Archives of Ophthalmology 121 (8): 1141–7. doi:10.1001/archopht.121.8.1141. PMID 12912692. 
  17. ^ Garcia, Carlos Alexandre de Amorim; Oréfice, Fernando; Nobre, Gabrielle Fernandes Dutra; Souza, Dilene de Brito; Rocha, Marta Liliane Ramalho; Vianna, Raul Navarro Garrido (2005). "Prevalence of refractive errors in students in Northeastern Brazil". Arquivos Brasileiros de Oftalmologia 68 (3): 321–5. doi:10.1590/S0004-27492005000300009. PMID 16059562. 
  18. ^ Bourne, R; Dineen, BP; Ali, SM; Noorul Huq, DM; Johnson, GJ (2004). "Prevalence of refractive error in Bangladeshi adults*1Results of the National Blindness and Low Vision Survey of Bangladesh". Ophthalmology 111 (6): 1150–60. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2003.09.046. PMID 15177965. 
  19. ^ Czepita, D; Filipiak, D (2005). "The effect of the type of astigmatism on the incidence of myopia". Klinika oczna 107 (1–3): 73–4. PMID 16052807. 
  20. ^ Asano, Kazuko; Nomura, Hideki; Iwano, Makiko; Ando, Fujiko; Niino, Naoakira; Shimokata, Hiroshi; Miyake, Yozo (2005). "Relationship Between Astigmatism and Aging in Middle-aged and Elderly Japanese". Japanese Journal of Ophthalmology 49 (2): 127–33. doi:10.1007/s10384-004-0152-1. PMID 15838729. 

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