Astigmatism is not a happy word: it’s like the icing on the cake but in reverse. The cake being the news that your eyesight has gotten worse. The icing is the astigmatism has got worse too! Its one of those words which, as a word is well known (among those of us who wear glasses at least) but its meaning, less so. The ophthalmologist’s usual solution to this problem is to prescribe an even stronger prescription that before leaving us with that sinking feeling that our eyesight is only going one way: in the downwards direction. So in this post I’ll be looking at what it is and discuss if you can you fix astigmatism.
What is Astigmatism?
Essentially it occurs when the eyeball and/or the cornea become warped. Instead of round, oblong like a football. This warping distorts the image on the retina. It affects how we (those who have astigmatism) see objects.
I have astigmatism in both of my eyes and find if I am out without my glasses on I feel closer to the ground somehow ( I have instantly shrunk after taking my glasses off it feels like). I put this down to this warping effect caused by the astigmatism. This condition also affects the sharpness of vision of the eyes generally as well.
Some believe that this ‘deformity’ is down to genetics. Personally I don’t think this can be the case. As otherwise the astigmatism would not change as the size and shape of the eye socket remains the same. However, astigmatism can change.
How do I know if I have it?
If you look at your eye prescription, if there is a prescription there for ‘cylinder’ and ‘axis’ this is for correcting astigmatism. Looking at two prescriptions I have (one from 2009 and the other from 2017) the cylinder measurement has remained constant (at -1.25 in the right eye and -0.75 in the left eye).
These measurements denote the shape of the eye. If there is no number here on your prescription, then the shape of your eye is round and you have no astigmatism. A minus sign next to the figure relates to nearsighted astigmatism. So for me, my eyes are different shapes; one rounder than the other.
The reference to the axis on the prescription refers to where the cylindrical corrections in the lenses must be positioned in degrees. Over the years the axis has changed for me. I have gone from 50 degrees to 60 degrees in the left and 155 to 160 in the right. However, this does not mean my prescription has become stronger; it just means the position of my astigmatism has changed over time.
How to correct it
It is said that astigmatism is caused by poor posture. The extraocular muscles (bands of muscle holding the eye on either side) should be equal in their tension. But over time, with poor posture, these muscles start to pull unequally.
This may be due to leaning the head to one side while reading or watching TV for long periods. It has been known to take place when there has been a sudden jolt to the body. Like when a person experiences whiplash in a car accident. This in turn causes the eyeball to be misshaped.
So the answer seems to be if we can correct our habits of poor posture or rehabilitate our eyes after an injury (if they have been affected), this at the very least will bring these muscles into their proper position and stop the astigmatism worsening. It may even improve it.
Exercise to get good posture
If you are like me and in front of a computer during your working week, a lot of time is usually spent sitting down. Over time this can cause havoc to our back. It causes our shoulders to curl and our chest muscles to shorten and tighten.
I myself suffer from stiff shoulders and a sore neck if I have been sitting in front of computer for too long. So carrying out some stretching exercises can do wonders for our posture and have that positive knock on effect with the extraocular muscles.
There are a number of exercises out there for this. I think one of the simplest and most effective exercise for this is ‘the plank’. For this exercise, start on your elbows and knees with hands together and stretch out your legs. Your feet should be hip distance apart with your face looking towards the floor. Also, your body should be horizontal to the floor.
Start by doing this for a matter of seconds to start with and slowly build up day by day. Obviously one to avoid, though, if you are suffering or have suffered recently from a back injury. Pilates exercises are also good for building up flexibility and strengthening posture. You could consider a Pilates exercise machine to assist with that.
The Alternative to Exercise
However, the experts are now saying that there is an even simpler way to ensure you don’t develop poor posture. The answer is simply ensuring that you don’t sit in one place for an extended period of time. The body usually makes you aware of this when we experience a twitch or niggle in our backs.
This is usually the sign that we have been sitting in one place for too long and it is time to get up and walk around. The body isn’t designed to stay in one place for too long. So taking regular short breaks is beneficial for the posture and the eyes too.
As I have said in my previous post too these regular breaks from the computer screen are vital for the health of the eyes; they need time to focus on something in the far distance.
One of the worst things we do to our eyes is to stare constantly at the computer screen without a break for hours on end. Especially if we are wearing our glasses as well.
It is possible…yes, to a degree
I think to a degree it is possible at least to control astigmatism so that it does not worsen by taking care of our eyes. I am not sure it is possible to totally reverse it just by correcting your posture. It is hard to get away from the mainstream thinking that the shape of the eye can’t be changed.
But what if we suspend this mainstream thinking and remember for one moment these extraocular muscles are muscles just like other muscles in the body? If those muscles can respond for the better to physiotherapy why can’t the eye muscles?
I leave you with an interesting clip from Dr Sam Berne, a behavioral optometrist. He has some unique ways of dealing with astigmatism. He advises the following: 1. wearing a separate pair of glasses for non dangerous conditions (such as driving a car) which have the astigmatism prescription removed 2. short periods of time wearing strong plus lenses and 3. his eye exercises called eye scan.
If you have any comments, please leave a comment below.