So, you’ve been diagnosed with astigmatism. What are your next steps?
Astigmatism refers to an uneven curvature of the eye’s cornea (or, less commonly, its lens). Because the slope of the cornea is irregular, light rays aren’t refracted normally in an eye with astigmatism. Instead, light gets scattered into multiple focal points by the uneven cornea, which can cause blurry vision, poor eyesight at night, eye strain, and other symptoms.
Chances are, treating your astigmatism will improve both your vision and your quality of life. You have a few different treatment options, but the most common one is simple, affordable, and stylish: glasses. (Contact lenses can also correct astigmatism—but that’s a topic for another article!)
Read on to understand how glasses correct astigmatism and which types of glasses are best suited for the job.
Can Glasses Help Astigmatism?
Yes, glasses can correct astigmatism and dramatically clarify your eyesight. Glasses for astigmatism are fitted with corrective cylindrical lenses that help to properly refract light onto the retina of the eye. They’re prescribed and calibrated to match the exact nature of your astigmatism (which may not be the same in both eyes!).
These prescription lenses counteract the effects of having an uneven cornea—and some of them can correct for nearsightedness or farsightedness, too.
How Does Astigmatism Affect Your Glasses Prescription?
When you have astigmatism, you’ll see a few additional numbers on your glasses prescription.
- CYL: The number in this column refers to the lens power needed to correct your astigmatism. CYL is short for “cylinder”—due to the irregular shape of the cornea, glasses for astigmatism need cylindrical and not spherical lenses.
- Axis: The number in this column refers to the orientation of your astigmatism correction, measured in degrees. It will always be between 1 and 180.
You’ll always see CYL and Axis numbers together on a prescription—you can’t have one part without the other.
Will Glasses Help with the Effects of Astigmatism at Night?
Yes, prescription glasses will help with astigmatism symptoms that affect your night vision. If you see halos, starburst patterns, or blurriness around lights at night, then wearing glasses should eliminate or dramatically reduce these distortions.
(See what these distortions can look like here: Astigmatism and Lights: How Astigmatism Affects Your Night Vision.)
Not only will wearing glasses for astigmatism at night help your eyesight, but it’ll make you a safer driver. Treating your astigmatism means you’re less likely to be distracted or misled by blurry lights while driving after dark.
How Do You Know If You Need Glasses for Astigmatism?
Astigmatism often presents with the following symptoms:
- Blurry vision at all distances
- Squinting to make vision clearer
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Eye strain or eye fatigue
If you’re experiencing any of those symptoms, schedule an eye exam. They don’t necessarily mean you have astigmatism, but your optometrist will be able to tell you for certain.
What Level of Astigmatism Requires Glasses?
You’ll likely need glasses if your astigmatism has a strength of 1.0 or more. But even if your astigmatism needs less than 1.0 diopters of correction, it doesn’t mean you won’t need glasses. The exact strength of your prescription doesn’t matter as much as your comfort and your optometrist’s recommendation: If astigmatism noticeably affects your vision, then getting an eye exam and prescription glasses is recommended.
Some people have astigmatism that’s very mild and doesn’t disrupt their vision—but you should always leave the final diagnosis to an optometrist. Sometimes, you don’t realize how blurry your vision has become until you experience the corrected version during an eye exam!
What Type of Glasses Do You Need for Astigmatism?
If you have astigmatism, you’ll want to look for the right kind of glasses. Certain frames or types of lenses will be more helpful than others.
Do You Need Special Glasses for Astigmatism?
You’ll need prescription glasses with cylindrical or spherocylindrical lenses, which are different from the lenses found in single-vision glasses that only correct for nearsightedness and farsightedness. (Sorry, you can’t borrow glasses from your nearsighted friend.)
Can You Wear Over-the-Counter Reading Glasses for Astigmatism?
Not typically. Picking up reading glasses from the drug store might sound convenient, but these glasses won’t do anything for your astigmatism and might even exacerbate some of your symptoms. We never recommend store-bought reading glasses in general because they likely won’t be an exact match for what your eyes need.
However, you can get prescription reading glasses that also account for astigmatism. Consult your optometrist to explore this possibility!
What Happens if You Don’t Wear Glasses for Astigmatism?
If you don’t wear glasses to correct your astigmatism, symptoms such as blurry vision, headaches, and eye strain won’t go away on their own. You’ll either continue to experience them and their effects on your eyesight, or you’ll have to pursue other methods of vision correction, such as toric contact lenses or refractive eye surgery.
Not wearing glasses for astigmatism won’t make your astigmatism worse, however. The severity of your astigmatism has nothing to do with whether or not you’re using corrective lenses to treat it.
What Glasses Are Best for Astigmatism?
When shopping for astigmatism glasses, you’ll want flatter (not wraparound) frames and lenses with anti-reflective coating. Here are some of the factors to consider:
If you have astigmatism, nearsightedness, or farsightedness, then your glasses will likely need single-vision lenses.
If you need vision correction for additional conditions, such as presbyopia, then progressive lenses may be the best option for you. These lenses have different zones for each kind of distance viewing and can treat astigmatism simultaneously.
Given that eye strain is a common astigmatism symptom, you might also look at anti-fatigue lenses. In addition to your prescription, these lenses include a boost in magnification at the bottom that makes for easier screen- and book-reading.
The severity of your astigmatism may influence the lens material you choose for your glasses. For mild or moderate astigmatism, polycarbonate lenses are a great option.
But if your astigmatism is more severe (say, greater than +/-4.0 diopters), high-index lenses will give you the vision correction you need while maintaining a thin profile.
An anti-reflective coating is a must for glasses for astigmatism. Astigmatism can cause bothersome distortions around lights, especially at night, and an anti-reflective coating reduces glare and distracting reflections that can contribute to these symptoms. (At Warby Parker, anti-reflective coating comes standard with all of our lenses.)
People with astigmatism can wear any style of glasses frame, but the curved nature of wraparound frames may cause visual distortions. Look instead for frames with a flat front, and of course, take fit and your personal sense of style into account.
Adjusting to Glasses for Astigmatism
Wearing glasses for astigmatism for the first time may feel strange. New wearers can experience side effects such as dizziness or a distortion called the fishbowl effect, which makes the edges of your vision appear slightly curved. Your eyes might need a few days or so to adjust, and if you’ve never worn glasses at all before, it can take a bit longer to get used to them.
Give yourself some time and talk with your optometrist if you notice any new or worsening symptoms. Other people may not need much of an adjustment period at all. Either way, for most people with astigmatism, glasses will provide a new and improved way of seeing the world.