When the front part of the eye is not evenly rounded, a person has astigmatism. Astigmatisms prevent the eye from refracting light correctly, resulting in blurry vision and a distorted image.
At least one-third of the population has some form of astigmatism. An astigmatism will be low to severe, depending on how negatively vision is impacted.
Many people are born with astigmatisms, although they can worsen over time. A person may also develop an astigmatism due to injury or surgery. A person who suspects they have an astigmatism should see an eye doctor for a consultation.
The type of contacts a person with astigmatism wears will depend greatly on the severity of the astigmatism itself.
While people with astigmatisms are able to wear specialized contact lenses, they may prefer glasses.
Someone who has a low astigmatism will be able to wear normal contacts lenses, although they may choose to wear contacts to correct the astigmatism.
What Is Astigmatism? The Two Main Types
The curve of the eye’s cornea and lens is a clear dome. Light enters and refracts off the retina, allowing a person to focus. When the cornea or lens is not spherical and smooth, astigmatism occurs.
Corneal astigmatism happens when there is an irregularity in the spherical shape of the cornea. When the cornea is oddly curved, light entering the eye refracts incorrectly, causing blurry vision and a distorted image.
Lenticular astigmatism occurs when the eye’s lens, located just behind the cornea, is misshapen.
The Best Type of Contact Lenses for Astigmatism
There are three common contact lens options for those with moderate to severe astigmatisms – they are:
- Rigid gas permeable lenses (RGP)
- Toric contacts
- Hybrid contacts
Eye doctors generally consider toric contact lenses to be the best option for those with astigmatism. However, we will cover the pros and cons of each type of contact lens below.
The most common type recommended for astigmatism is toric contacts – they are soft and designed to rotate back into place. Although less comfortable, rigid gas permeable lenses are another common option suitable for astigmatism. They provide the sharpest vision.
Finally, a hybrid is exactly what it sounds like – these contact lenses combine toric and RGP lenses, featuring a rigid gas permeable core with soft edges – providing both clarity and comfort.
There are multiple factors that will determine which contact lens option is best for a particular individual. The person, as well as their doctor, will want to consider cost, visual sharpness, and comfort.
Rigid Gas Permeable Lenses (RGP)
Rigid gas permeable lenses (RGP) were introduced in the 1970s. These contacts are thicker and rigid, making them generally less comfortable at first – though the eye will adjust with time.
While RGP lenses have a higher upfront cost, they can last for an entire year. They are more durable than soft contact lenses as well, since they are made of plastic.
One of the large benefits of RGP lenses is the clarity and sharp vision they provide. Since the material is stiff, the quality of vision isn’t altered by blinking.
Toric contacts are by far the most common, because they were designed specifically to correct an astigmatism. These contacts are soft and made of either hydrogel material or a breathable silicone hydrogel material.
There are many different types of toric contacts, because there are various types of astigmatism with no two astigmatisms being exactly the same. For this reason, it may take trying multiple pairs of different toric contacts before discovering the most optimal set.
A major part of toric contact design is stability. Toric contacts may have a thicker bottom to ensure that the contact rotates back into alignment, thinner sections to ensure its stability on the eye, or some combination of both.
Toric contacts are more expensive to create and more time-consuming to properly fit. For both of these reasons, they will generally cost more than non-toric contacts.
If a person has toric contacts but their vision is blurry or distorted, they should speak with their eye doctor to ensure they are wearing the best contact lenses for their particular astigmatism.
Hybrid contacts utilize the best design features of both rigid gas permeable lenses (RGP) and toric contact lenses. For this reason, they are often the best choice for those with cornea astigmatism.
The center core of hybrid contacts is made of the same rigid plastic as other gas permeable lenses. The edge, or skirt, of hybrid contacts, however, is made of hydrogel material or a breathable silicone hydrogel material, like soft toric contacts.
By combining the best of both worlds, users get the sharp clarity of rigid gas permeable lenses with the comfort of toric lenses. This combination also provides greater stability than toric contacts.
Hybrid contacts are the most expensive option. However, a pair can be expected to last about half a year.
Contact Lenses versus Glasses for Astigmatism: Which is Better?
Whether contact lenses or glasses are better for astigmatism will be a matter of personal choice for most people. Luckily, there is a wide range of options either way.
Those who have severe astigmatism will likely need to use toric contacts or wear glasses to correct their astigmatism.
Toric contacts are designed specifically for more severe cases of astigmatism. However, if clarity and sharpness of vision are paramount concerns, glasses may be preferred.
Overall, neither contacts nor glasses are better. For some, contacts offer benefits that glasses simply cannot, and vice versa.
It is recommended that a person speak with their eye doctor about their individual astigmatism and what options would be best for them.
Can “Normal” Contact Lenses Be Worn with Astigmatism?
In this context, a normal contact lens is a spherical soft one.
A person with astigmatism who wears a normal contact lens is not putting their eye in danger – it is safe for any healthy eye to wear a spherical soft lens.
A person with astigmatism of 0.75D or less can wear normal contact lenses. However, anyone with an astigmatism greater than that will need corrective contact lenses or glasses to fix the visual impairment.
Wearing Colored Contacts with Astigmatism
Colored contacts for those with an astigmatism will need to be toric contacts.
It’s important to speak with an eye doctor about colored contacts, regardless of whether the desire is to wear them continuously or for an event.
It is highly recommended that all colored contacts are prescribed by an eye doctor. When used correctly, studies have shown that colored contacts prescribed by doctors are safe – although the same cannot always be said for non-prescription colored contacts.
There are various options available, including custom lenses. Those interested should ask their doctor.
If a person with astigmatism chooses to forgo visual clarity in order to wear “normal” colored contact lenses for an event, it is important to make sure the contacts are FDA approved and prescribed by a doctor. Even fantasy contact lenses meant for cosplay can be prescribed by a doctor.
What to Do When Astigmatism Contacts are Uncomfortable
Contacts for an astigmatism, especially toric contacts, are more difficult to properly fit. It takes more expertise from an eye doctor to correctly align the contact, and it may take practice for the wearer to become comfortable with placing them as well.
Toric contacts are usually weighted. When blinking and engaging in daily activity, toric contacts will naturally rotate. The bulkier section of the lens is what ensures that it automatically rotates back into place.
A study conducted in 2013 showed that about 80% of new toric contact lens wearers were able to successfully and comfortably wear the lenses after the first attempt.
If someone is struggling with their contact lenses, they should contact their eye doctor immediately. There are various options and brands available. A good eye doctor will ensure a patient’s comfort is properly considered alongside visual acuity.
Can People with Astigmatism Wear Contact Lenses?
The question of whether or not people with astigmatism can wear contact lenses doesn’t come up as often anymore. It is generally well-known that there are options, with the most popular being rigid gas permeable lenses, toric contacts, and hybrid contacts.
While hybrid contacts are thought to be the most comfortable with the sharpest vision, they also offer the steepest price tag.
For those with a severe astigmatism who wish to wear contact lenses, toric contacts are a must. These soft lenses are designed specifically for people with astigmatisms, with bulkier and thinner sections designed to create stable placement that always rotates back into alignment.
Finally, rigid gas permeable lenses offer sharp visual acuity but take more time for the eye to adjust to its stiff edges. A set of RGPs can last up to an entire year, though, making their higher price tag more economical than they appear.
Astigmatism is inherited but can also worsen. Most people have some form of an astigmatism – it’s far too easy for the perfect curve of the cornea’s dome to be interrupted by age, injury, or surgery.
For some, the astigmatism will be so low that normal contact lenses (or an extra-strength prescription for normal contact lenses) will provide clarity of vision.
However, for most people with astigmatism, glasses or contacts designed to correct the astigmatism will improve vision and overall quality of life.
If someone is experiencing blurry vision and distorted image, especially when accompanied by headaches, an eye doctor should be seen as soon as possible.
Whether a person decides to use glasses or find the contact lenses that are best for them, astigmatisms are incredibly common and fairly simple to correct.