Toric contact lenses arose out of a need that could not be addressed by regular contact lenses. For many years after they were introduced, contact lenses could easily fix nearsightedness and farsightedness but could do nothing for astigmatism. Through careful crafting of contact lenses, it became possible to change where light rays focused on the retina and return the eye to 20/20 vision. Astigmatism is different and posed a special problem that was not solvable by the technology of the that time, forcing people with astigmatism to continue wearing glasses. Toric lenses ultimately solved that problem.
Vision issues usually happen because the eye focuses light rays incorrectly in relation to the retina. Nearsightedness causes light rays to focus in front of the retina. Farsightedness causes light rays to focus behind it.
Astigmatism is a different problem altogether. Astigmatism means that the cornea, lens or the eyeball as a whole is oddly shaped compared to a normal eye. The physical distortion is small and undetectable by others, but small differences in the eye produce a large effect for your vision. Light rays end up scattering in many different directions–not just ahead of, behind, or on the retina. Blurred vision is the unfortunate result of this distortion.
The scattering of light that occurs in astigmatism is what makes it more difficult to produce contact lenses to fix the problem. Toric lenses solve this problem by combining different shapes in order to focus light properly. Regular lenses are shaped like half a sphere, but toric lenses combine a spherical surface with a donut shaped (toroidal) one. This unique shape solves the light scattering problem.
Despite their different shape, toric lenses are made of all the same materials as other contact lenses. They can be soft, hard, or rigid gas permeable (RGP). Unlike other contact lenses, they can’t be allowed to rotate around the eye–the toric lens shape must remain firmly in place to prevent the scattering of light. That could mean, for example, that they are weighed towards the bottom so as to keep that side of the lens on the bottom part of the eye.
Toric lenses can also be designed to fix more than one vision problem simultaneously, such as astigmatism and farsightedness. This flexibility and unique shape make them more difficult to manufacture correctly, and eye exams and fitting can be more complicated.
As a result of their special qualities, toric lenses are sometimes more expensive. People with a mild astigmatism might avoid the extra expense by just using ordinary contact lenses. The cornea will to some extent conform to the shape of the lens and minimize the scattering of light. In fact, toric lenses may not be necessary at all for mild astigmatism. Only your eye doctor can say for certain after administering an exam.
For people end up needing toric lenses, there are many options available. You can purchase single or multifocal lenses. Toric lenses are also available in the same types as regular lenses–disposable, single day wear, weekly wear, monthly wear, and even extended wear.
If you suffer from astigmatism, toric contact lenses offer you a flexible and convenient alternative to your glasses.