Wearing Contacts With Astigmatism: Your Questions Answered
Nearly one in three people in the United States have astigmatism, which is caused by an irregularly shaped cornea. Many of these people also experience near or farsightedness as well. So if you wear glasses, you may have astigmatism too.
If you haven't visited an eye doctor in a while, the last advice you received might have been to steer clear of contacts. Old-school contact lenses wouldn't help your vision much because they couldn't meet the curve of your eye. But today’s contact lenses are much more versatile.
Let’s take a look at some questions you might have about contacts with astigmatism. We’ll clear them up for you and give you the knowledge you need to make an informed decision.
Why Did the Eye Doctor Tell Me I Can't Wear Contacts?
When you have astigmatism, your cornea takes on a curve that differs from the standard contact shape. Standard contacts fit corneas that take a round shape like a basketball. But eyes with astigmatism look more like a football to varying degrees.
Many people have slight astigmatism, but those with moderate astigmatic levels are the ones who tend to struggle more with their vision. Moderate astigmatism doesn't work well with normal contacts because they don’t correct for the disorder. The lens also doesn't sit properly on your eye to correct vision.
For contacts to work, you need them to move with your eye, which is problematic when the lens doesn't sit correctly. Differences in corneal shape are one reason eye doctors may recommend glasses to patients with astigmatism. For this reason, your doctor may have prescribed glasses over contacts.
What Kind of Contacts Can I Wear With Astigmatism?
The contacts an ophthalmologist prescribes depends on the type of astigmatism you have. This may be light or strong astigmatism. You have light astigmatism with a prescription of under 1.00 diopter. If your prescription is 1.00 to 2.00 diopters, then you have moderate astigmatism. 2.00 to 3.00 is considered severe. Should you have anything over 3.00 diopters, then you have extreme astigmatism.
Contacts for Light Astigmatism
If your astigmatism is minor, then your best bet is rigid gas permeable lenses, also known as GP contacts. Gas permeable lenses are plastic contacts that allow oxygen to pass through the lenses and reach your eyes. The lenses are rigid, but they are not hard like the old style of contacts for astigmatism.
Unlike older types, today’s gas permeable lenses include silicone. Silicone adds flexibility that previous contacts didn't have. The silicone also makes the lens more permeable. This allows for more oxygen flow for healthier corneas without heavy reliance on eye drops.
Because these lenses let more oxygen through, it's possible to make them larger than hard lenses used to be. This allows manufacturers to have more room to fit the contacts by keeping the edges closer to the eye. The result is a rigid and durable contact with a fit that both matches the eye and lets oxygen through for added comfort.
Contacts for Strong Astigmatism
You can also choose lenses that correct more extreme astigmatism. While standard lenses have a round shape, like a beach ball slice, toric lenses take on a different geometric shape. The toric shape looks much like a donut slice, so they are the best contacts to fit for astigmatism. They have a slightly weighted edge to help them remain aligned with the 6 to 12 o'clock axis on your eye. Blinking helps them rotate and the weight keeps the contact aligned properly.
Toric lenses typically come in dailies or disposable lenses, but the range is growing. You might even find a colored contact lens that fits your prescription.
Is Wearing Contacts With Astigmatism Uncomfortable?
The earliest lens types focused on hard lenses because they performed better than soft lenses. New soft lenses can now provide great comfort and performance, whereas hard contact lenses tend to be less comfortable. However, GP lenses do provide crisper vision than soft toric lenses.
There may be a period of adjustment when you first start wearing your contacts. This is true whether or not you have astigmatism. Over time, however, you should get used to them and feel comfortable wearing them. Ask an eye care professional about different types of GP and toric lenses to find a brand that feels most comfortable to you.
How Are Contacts Fitted for Astigmatism?
Choosing the correct lenses and finding the right fit is critical for finding success with contacts. During discussions with your eye doctor, you may be presented with several options. The goal being, to provide you with the right lenses for both your eye shape and vision.
It's possible that you may need to try different contacts to find the right fit. Toric lenses feature a specific orientation, and they need to stay in place to function properly. Contacts manufacturers add features to help achieve this, including:
- Ballasting (thicker or heavier lenses)
- Lens truncation (removing part of the bottom of the lens)
- Thin and thick zones
Because different manufacturers use their own methods, you may find that the fit of each type differs. The fit is important because if they slip rather than move with your eye, your visual acuity suffers.
If your contacts aren't working, return to your eye doctor to check the fit. Dry eyes may be a problem for those with astigmatism, and dry contacts may rotate out of proper alignment. You may find you need a different multi-purpose lens solution or eye drop to help. Consult your eye doctor before changing brands or types.
You Can Wear Contacts With Astigmatism
With so many people in the U.S. who have astigmatism, contact lenses were bound to be developed for them! You don’t have to let astigmatism prevent you from wearing contacts, but you may spend more time finding contacts that fit and feel good. Make an appointment to talk to your eye care professional about wearing contacts with astigmatism to find out what’s right for you. In the meantime, find out the answers to your burning questions about transitioning to contacts.