Have Astigmatism? You Have Contact Lens Options (More Than You Think!)

It’s time to retire the myth that eyeglasses are best for astigmatism. Here’s how contact lenses can help you see better.

Woman holding a contact lens

If you’ve been told that you have astigmatism, you’ll be happy to know that your options for vision correction include glasses and contact lenses.  

“There’s a misperception that glasses are the only option for those with astigmatism,” says Sarah Joya, O.D., a Chicago-based optometrist practicing at America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses. That belief came about because for many years eyeglasses were the only option. Even when a good contact lens option — rigid gas permeable (RGP) — became available, the notion held strong.  

Contact lens advances, however, mean more choices than ever to help correct astigmatism. Here’s what you should know. 

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How Astigmatism Affects Your Vision 

To understand astigmatism, it helps to picture your eye’s cornea. The cornea is essentially the front window of your eye. Astigmatism is an imperfection in the shape of your cornea. A typical cornea is shaped like a basketball. If you have astigmatism, it’s shaped more like a football.  

“Since your cornea has a distorted shape, light rays aren’t refracted, or bent, properly onto your retina at the back of your eye,” explains Dr. Joya. That causes your vision of both near and far objects to be blurry or distorted — as if you were looking into a fun house mirror. Some people who have astigmatism also have nearsightedness (myopia) or farsightedness (hyperopia) as well.  

There are degrees of astigmatism — and not everyone who has it needs vision correction. In fact, most people have a small amount of astigmatism, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. But if you’re having problems seeing clearly, your eye doctor will want to discuss options for prescription eyewear to compensate for the uneven curvature of your lens. 

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3 Contact Lens Options for Astigmatism   

Of course, prescription eyeglasses are always an option, but Dr. Joya says there are several contact lenses to consider. In fact, “sometimes people with astigmatism do better with contact lenses than with glasses,” she says, since contacts provide a wider field of view and sharper vision when the cornea is unevenly curved.    

While different brands will offer slight differences, the contact lens choices fall into three main types:  

Soft toric contact lenses. These lenses are made of one of two materials: hydrogel or silicone hydrogel. “Silicone hydrogel tends to be more breathable, but it can be more expensive,” Dr. Joya says.  

Unlike other contacts, which are spherical, toric contact lenses are shaped like a torus, or doughnut. This special shape gives them different focusing (or refracting) powers that can help correct the astigmatism.  

Usually, contact lenses can rotate on your eye as you blink or move your head throughout the day. But if you have astigmatism, it’s important that your lenses stay in place, explains Dr. Joya. Toric contact lenses are designed so that they naturally rotate to the right place on your eye, which keeps your vision clear.  

Just remember, “fit is extremely important for toric lenses,” stresses Dr. Joya. “If the contacts don’t fit well, you won’t achieve the visual clarity you need.” Getting the perfect fit is one part of a contact lens exam, which is different from a routine eye exam. 

Rigid gas-permeable toric lens. As mentioned earlier, RGP contact lenses have helped people with astigmatism see better for several years. Dr. Joya says they’re often recommended for those with severe astigmatism. They’re hard lenses made of plastic combined with other materials. They hold a firm shape, but because they are permeable, they let oxygen flow through the lens to your eye. 

Most astigmatism occurs on the front surface of the cornea. Since this lens is so rigid, it can mold the tear film on the front of the eye into a spherical shape, which corrects astigmatism. Earlier research suggested RGP lenses provided sharper vision than soft toric lenses for people with astigmatism, but with advances in technology this is not always the case, notes Dr. Joya.  

One thing to keep in mind with RGPs: Since these contacts are rigid and smaller than soft contact lenses, they may take some time to get used to, she adds. 

Hybrid contact lenses. These lenses have a rigid center surrounded by a soft outer ring. They combine the crisp vision of a harder RGP lens with the comfort of a soft toric lens. 

“They can be the best of both worlds,” says Dr. Joya. “The astigmatism is corrected, but it’s surrounded by a soft lens, which makes it easier to wear.” And because they have thinner edges than RGP lenses, they’re less likely to pop out. 

You have choices when it comes to your contact lenses. Let the eye care specialists at America’s Best show you selections that are right for your prescription and your lifestyle. Click here to explore our contact lens options. 

The Importance of Annual Eye Exams for Astigmatism 

Regular checkups help your eye doctor monitor your astigmatism to see if it’s changing over time, says Dr. Joya. It’s also important to remember that a contact lens prescription is good for only one year — so you’ll need that checkup to restock your contact lens supply.  

Plus, contact lens technology is always advancing, so there may be new choices for you to learn about.