astigmatism (əstĭgˈmətĭzˌəm) [key], type of faulty vision caused by a nonuniform curvature in the refractive surfaces—usually the cornea, less frequently the lens—of the eye. As a result, light rays do not all come to a single focal point on the retina. Instead, some focus on the retina while others focus in front of or behind it. The condition may be congenital, or it may result from disease or injury; it can occur in addition to nearsightedness or farsightedness. The spherical lenses used to correct nearsightedness and farsightedness must be specially adapted to correct the out-of-focus plane of vision of the astigmatic eye. When the patient observes a pattern of straight lines placed at various angles, those running in one direction appear sharp while those in other directions (particularly at right angles to the sharp lines) appear blurred. A special cylindrical lens is placed in the out-of-focus axis to correct the condition. In many cases contact lenses are the most effective means of correcting astigmatism.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.