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Correcting Astigmatism With Toric Contact Lenses

Although contact lenses were once considered less effective at correcting astigmatism than glasses, that is certainly no longer the case today.

The advent of new lens designs and materials has already made available an assortment of contact lenses that can correct astigmatism, which are known as toric contact lenses.

contacts

We’ll walk you through how exactly toric contact lenses are able to improve the vision of a person with astigmatism, and what things you should consider if you think you need them yourself.

 

What is Astigmatism?

Astigmatism is one of the most common vision problems patients are diagnosed with, and it’s also one of the most misunderstood.

 Like nearsightedness (myopia) and farsightedness (hyperopia), astigmatism is a "refractive error," meaning it's a problem with how the eye focuses light. The cornea and the lens are the parts of the eye primarily responsible for refracting light, and the curvature of these parts bends the light toward the rear of the eye so as to focus it directly on the retina, which produces clear vision. 

 In an eye with astigmatism, however, light does not come to a single, focused point on the retina. Such refractive errors are usually caused by an irregularly shaped cornea: instead of being totally spherical in shape, like a basketball, the irregular cornea is shaped more like a football, with one side steeper in one direction and flatter in the other. 

astigmatism

The unsymmetrical curvature causes an unequal bending of light rays entering the eye, which then focus onto two points at the back of the eye, instead of on a single point.  This may compromise a person’s vision, and result in symptoms that can range from slight blurriness for those with mild astigmatism, to headaches and heavily distorted images for those with moderate to severe astigmatism.

 

Toric contact lenses

Like nearsightedness and farsightedness, astigmatism can usually be corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses or refractive surgery; and, just as there are different types of contacts to suit the needs of both nearsighted and farsighted individuals, so there are specially designed contacts for people with astigmatism, which are known as toric contact lenses.

 

How are toric contact lenses different from regular contact lenses?

Since the standard contact lens conforms to the shape of the front of eye, they may not be effective in correcting astigmatism, a condition we know is typically caused by an irregularly shaped cornea.

Toric lenses are different from regular contacts in a couple of other important ways as well:

  • Lens Power: A standard contact lens has a spherical surface that is the same power all around the lens. A toric lens, by contrast, has two different powers in the lens, which correct the varying amounts of nearsightedness or farsightedness in the astigmatic's eye. You could say that the differing powers in a toric lens help compensate for the cornea's unsymmetrical shape, thereby allowing the light to refract directly onto the retina like it should.  
  • Lens Movement: It doesn't matter if a standard spherical lens rolls around on your eye, as the power is the same everywhere; but it does matter for a toric lens, which must remain in position for best visual acuity. Consequently, toric lenses have a special design feature that enables the lens to rotate to the proper orientation on the cornea, thus maintaining a clear line of vision.
 
 

Different Types of Toric Contact Lenses

The toric lens is uniquely designed to maintain its regular shape while resting on the cornea. And while in the past patients with astigmatism could only wear rigid contact lenses, the new soft toric contact lens fits the front of the eye like a glove.

Indeed, toric lenses now come in a wide range of lens types, materials, fittings, powers and designs.

Not surprisingly, most people who decide to wear toric contacts choose the soft toric lenses. Made out of hydrogel, a plastic material that is 35-80% water. Soft toric lenses are more comfortable and easier to manage, though they do require extra care during fitting to stay in place.   

A few of the others include:

  • Rigid Gas Permeable (RGP or PG) Contact Lenses: Rigid contact lenses resurface the corneal surface, essentially replacing the cornea as the refracting surface of the eye. Due to their rigid nature, RGP lenses can be better at staying put, but also involve a longer initial adjustment time. They can also be a bit drier and more delicate than soft toric lenses.
  • Hybrid Contact Lenses: These lenses, which are custom-made for each wearer’s eyes, have a middle area made of rigid gas permeable lens material, surrounded by a fitting zone made of hydrogel. Like RGP lenses, they are more expensive than soft gel lenses.
  • Specialty Lenses: Specialty lenses for higher order and irregular astigmatism are also available, and are typically designed to be replaced at longer intervals.

 

Things to know about seeking toric contact lenses

Prescription: Like all contacts, toric contacts must be prescribed by your doctor. During your eye exam, your doctor will make sure your eyes are healthy enough to wear contacts. Then the doctor can choose the particular lenses that are right for your vision, and fit them for your eyes.

Fitting: Proper fitting is especially important for toric lenses. Since they have a particular orientation on the cornea, toric lenses need to stay put on your eyes in the right way. Toric lenses have a middle axis that keeps your line of vision clear; if your lenses don’t fit well and slip, so does your visual clarity.

Cost: Fitting toric lenses for astigmatism takes more expertise than fitting standard soft lenses, which is why getting fitted with toric lenses usually costs more than a regular lens exam and fitting. Also, because they have a more complex design, the cost of replacing toric lenses is higher than traditional soft contacts. Exactly how much higher the cost will be depends on the lens material, design, and the optical retailer you buy them from.

 Wear schedule: The advent of daily soft torics has greatly improved their overall convenience for patients who prefer a frequent replacement option, or who are especially active in sports and other high-contact activities.  


Which contact lenses are right for you?

 To find the best contacts for your individual needs, start by scheduling a comprehensive eye exam with your eye doctor.

Individuals with astigmatism have a wide range of options to correct their vision problem. In consultation with your doctor, you can select the treatment that best meets your visual needs, and that fit well with your lifestyle.