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Chances are you may have heard of an eye condition widely known as a "stigmatism." This imperfection in the surface of the eye is actually "astigmatism," a condition that is both common and treatable. Like nearsightedness and farsightedness, astigmatism affects the way you see ? except astigmatism affects your vision at all distances, not just close up or far away.

Astigmatism occurs when the cornea, or surface of your eye, is irregularly shaped. A perfectly shaped cornea is spherical, like a baseball, allowing all light rays to enter your eye to focus on the retina. As a result, the image you see is sharp and crisp. With astigmatism, the shape of the cornea is irregular -- more like a football than a baseball -- causing the light rays to focus on two points rather than one. The result is distorted or blurred vision.

"Most people have some degree of astigmatism," says Randall Fuerst, O.D., a VSP doctor in Sacramento, California. "If it's mild, however, you may not even realize you have it." Severe astigmatism, on the other hand, produces blurred vision and possibly eye fatigue or headaches. In some cases, astigmatism is accompanied by nearsightedness or farsightedness as well.

But whatever the degree of astigmatism, it can be treated. If it's mild, you probably won't need correction. If it's more advanced, it can be corrected with either eyeglasses or contact lenses. Both rigid contact lenses and soft lenses, called torics, are effective in treating astigmatism. Rigid lenses are made of a breathable plastic that is custom-fit to the shape of the cornea. Soft lenses are made of gel-like plastic containing varying amounts of water. "Another option is vision correction surgery," says Dr. Fuerst, "which can work very well in correcting astigmatism." Your doctor can help you decide which treatment is best for you.