Astigmatism is an irregular curvature of the cornea, the front window of the eye.

It is very common and can be treated in various ways.

Astigmatism is similar to viewing your face in the back of a spoon, causing a distortion of your face, as opposed to looking at a mirror, which would represent no distortion of the image (no astigmatism). There are two places of the eye that contribute to astigmatism: the cornea and the lens.

The lens adds to the magnification and focusing power of the eye.

Another way to describe astigmatism is that the eye is similar to the shape of a football, where one axis is steeper than the other, as opposed to an eye without astigmatism, which would be similar to a basketball. When light rays enter the eye with astigmatism, the light rays enter differently and are bent at different points of the eye and thereby cause a blurred or distorted image.

In a cornea that is more round, the light rays are bent and come to a focus at one point, resulting in a clearer image.

Treatment options of astigmatism include glasses and contact lenses.

In particular, toric contact lenses can correct astigmatism in most cases. Higher levels of astigmatism require special hard contact lenses that your optometrist can help you with.

Very high levels of astigmatism can represent more serious cornea diseases. Having an annual eye exam by your optometrist or ophthalmologist is recommended, and if your child complains of seeing blurry, astigmatism can be detected and the vision improved.

When patients are tired of glasses and/or contact lenses, and are between the ages of 18 and 45, refractive surgeries such as LASIK or PRK, among a few others, can correct astigmatism and reduce or even eliminate the need for glasses. These types of surgeries are not covered by insurance.

If you are between the ages of 40 and 60, then refractive lens exchange, or RLE, can correct your near and far vision as well as your astigmatism. This surgery is not covered by insurance.

If you are above the age of 60, then cataracts (cloudy lenses) begin to develop and eventually people need cataract surgery.

With cataract surgery, the lens is removed and replaced, like with RLE, and people can choose a standard lens implant, which is covered by insurance but does not correct astigmatism. So, one will need glasses after the surgery if astigmatism is present.

The exciting option with RLE and cataract surgery is a lens implant that corrects your near and far vision as well as your astigmatism. Ask your eye surgeon (ophthalmologist) about a trifocal (PanOptix) toric lens implant to see without glasses after surgery.

(Dr. Robert F. Melendez is an area ophthalmologist, and founder and CEO of Juliette Eye Institute in Albuquerque. He has also been a clinical assistant professor at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center since 2005. He lives in Corrales.)