Blurred Reticles: Astigmatism and Red Dots

By Joe Kriz


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The most dominant of our senses, vision is critical to everything we do – including shooting. After all, you can’t hit what your eyes (or someone else’s) can’t see. However, not everyone is born with perfect vision, and even those who are can still develop a vision impairment.

One of the top 10 disabilities among adults 18 years and older, vision disability affects an estimated 12 million people 40 years and over, according to the CDC. Of those, two-thirds have vision impairment due to uncorrected refractive error, including nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism – the focus of this blog. These eye conditions not only make it more difficult to see in everyday life but can impair a shooter’s vision and accuracy on-target.



Effecting 1 in 3 people worldwide, astigmatism is the most common form of refractive error. Observed as blurry vision, refractive errors are characterized by an abnormally shaped eyeball, cornea, and/or lens.

Normally spherical, like a basketball, those with astigmatism have an elongated cornea or lens –or both – shaped like a football or the back of a spoon. This deformation causes light to refract, or bend, as it passes through the eye and converge at multiple focal points in front of, on, or behind the retina at the back of the eye. Rather than hit at a single focal point, multiple points create an unclear image that results in distorted vision.

Types of Astigmatism

In addition to corneal and lenticular astigmatism, relating to the source of distortion, astigmatism takes three forms:

  • Myopic Astigmatism – astigmatism in an eye that is nearsighted, from light converging in front of the retina
  • Hyperopic Astigmatism – astigmatism in an eye that is farsighted, from light converging behind the retina
  • Mixed Astigmatism – astigmatism in an eye that is both nearsighted and farsighted, from light converging in front of and behind the retina
Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Though widespread, doctors don’t know what causes astigmatism. Some people are born with astigmatism, with science suggesting it may be hereditary, while others develop it as children or adults. Others may develop astigmatism after an eye infection, injury, or vision surgery.

In addition to blurred vision up close and/or at a distance, those with astigmatism may also experience eye strain (often associated with squinting), eye discomfort, headaches, and trouble seeing clearly at night or in dim light. But those with astigmatism are not without treatment options.

While one cannot prevent astigmatism, refractive error eye conditions can often be corrected with prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses. Glasses are the simplest, safest, and most versatile option, while contacts can provide wearers with a wider field of view with less physical interference. Laser and other surgery procedures are also available, able to reshape the cornea or lens to correct vision impairment. These treatments are much more expensive but can offer a one-time fix.

Regular eye exams can also detect and monitor astigmatism. It’s recommended those aged 19-64 see an optometrist every two years with those 65 and older having an eye exam on an annual basis. Those currently wearing glasses or contacts should see a doctor annually or if there’s a notable change in vision.



Now that you know what astigmatism is, let’s talk about how it may impact you on the firing line or in the field. Of course, we’re talking optics – specifically red dots, or dot sights.

Red Dot Basics

Red dots use an LED emitter to project a reticle onto a forward lens. Red dots with one lens are called open emitter optics, while those with the emitter enclosed between a rear window and the front lens are referred to as closed emitters. They function the same, with closed emitter optics offering greater protection against grime and water but are larger in overall dimension.

Most reticles feature a single, center dot ranging in size from 1 MOA to 6 MOA, with a larger Minute of Angle (MOA) equating to a larger diameter dot. Others are offered with multiple reticles that combine or replace the center dot with a triangle, outer circle, and/or crosshairs. Shooters then typically have the choice of red or green illumination with 6-12 brightness settings to accommodate a variety of indoor, outdoor, and lighting conditions.

When mounted to a pistol, rifle, or shotgun and presented on target, shooters use the red dot’s projected reticle to aim – often with greater speed and precision than iron sights.

Do I Have Astigmatism?

If you see anything but a perfectly round dot or crisp reticle when looking through your optic, you likely have some form of astigmatism.

As we learned earlier, astigmatism distorts vision. For those with astigmatism, a red dot reticle may appear blurry, starburst, or smeared – like a comet streak – compared to what’s advertised. You may even see a cluster of multiple out-of-focus reticles. No two eyes or astigmatisms are the same, but the common denominator is a distorted reticle.

It’s worth noting that using a brightness setting too high for the environment, having dirt/dust on the LED emitter glass or front lens, and using a faulty optic can also produce effects that mimic astigmatism. If correcting these does not clear up the reticle, distorted vision is the culprit.


The Phone Test

If you’ve never been diagnosed with astigmatism, question if what you’re seeing is the effect of refractive error, or are in denial about having a vision impairment, there’s a simple exercise you can do at home or on the range to test:

Astigmatism Phone Test

Step 1: Grab your red dot and mobile phone

Step 2: Turn your optic on and open your phone camera or a photo app

Step 3: With a steady hand, take a photo of the red dot reticle with your phone

Step 4: Observe the optic reticle with your actual eyes

Step 5: Compare what you see with your eyes to the reticle photo

If the reticle photo taken with your phone appears clearer, crisper, or cleaner than what you see with your naked eye, you likely have an astigmatism. This is because your camera does not have the same structure as your eyes and is, thus, not subject to impairment. If it appears roughly the same, you probably don’t. Of course, the phone test doesn’t replace an eye exam by an actual optometrist, but it is a quick and easy way to check for astigmatism yourself.

Solutions for Astigmatism

Despite its effects when using red dots, having astigmatism doesn’t mean you need to give up on optics or shooting entirely. There are multiple solutions to reduce or eliminate distorted reticles and blurry vision.

Solution 1: Four Eyes > Two

Odds are your astigmatism isn’t just affecting your vision when shooting. The easiest solution, glasses and contacts can vastly improve how you see and your quality of life, both on and off the range. Depending on the severity of your astigmatism, you may be able to get away with only using prescription shooting glasses, like those from Tactical RX. Surgery is also an option, but a much larger personal and financial decision.

Solution 2: Bigger is Better

Offered in various sizes, smaller red dot reticles are great for precision work at long distances while larger reticles are easier to pick up quickly for close engagements. Instinctively, you may think a smaller reticle would reduce the effects of astigmatism, but they can often exacerbate the issue. If you’re currently shooting a <3 MOA reticle and experiencing a lot of distortion, trying upgrading to a larger 4 MOA/6 MOA dot or open circle reticle. You may not have the same level of pinpoint accuracy, but you likely never had that anyway.

Solution 3: Go Green

Most dot sights are offered with red illumination because it’s the quickest for the human eye to pick up, traveling the fastest of all color wavelengths. However, red is not highly visible at night – a known problem for those with astigmatism – and not everyone sees colors equally. But human eyes are more sensitive to green. While not offered by every optic manufacturer, green-illuminated dot sights are known to help shooters mitigate the effects of astigmatism. Green reticles can, however, get lost against similar color back drops like grassy hills and wooded areas.

Solution 4: Try Before You Buy

With so many red dot options on the market, don’t fall into the trap of thinking they’re all the same. Different optic manufacturers, and even different optic models from the same manufacturer, use different LED emitters that may appear differently to your eyes. Like renting a gun, look through as many red dots as possible at your local dealer/range or from friends before you buy. Let your eyes guide your purchase decision. The “best” red dot for astigmatism is the one that works best for you.

Solution 5: Shoot Through It

If you already wear corrective lenses, have tried larger dots, made the switch to green illumination, and still see a blurry reticle, your only solution may be to shoot through the distortion. Remember, the reticle is only blurry to your eyes/brain. If you can get both to focus on the target through the optic window rather than the perceived distorted reticle projected onto it, you should be capable of delivering a similar level of accuracy downrange as if you had 20/20 vision. Of course, that’s assuming you can get your optic zeroed first.

Solution 6: Seek Alternatives

When the previous five solutions don’t work, it may be time to seek alternative optics. Luckily, other options exist on the market that don’t come with the same vision challenges of red dots – notably prism scopes and low power variable optics (LPVOs). Rather than projecting a reticle subject to distortion, reticles are etched into the glass lens with a special coating that reflections LED illuminations and prevents starburst and smearing. They can even be used without illumination, unlike dot sights. Unfortunately, these optics are typically only meant for use on long guns, not handguns.



As an optics manufacturer, we know the impact astigmatism can have on you as a shooter. Not being able to clearly see your reticle as intended or have the accuracy you're capable of because of your vision can be frustrating – but we have optics that can help!

Swampfox is one of the few manufacturers who offer all pistol and rifle dot sights with the choice of red or green illumination. Sized for concealed carry, home defense, target shooting, and competition, reticles can be had in 3 MOA and 6 MOA sizes, as well as with multi-reticle options.

Dot Sights

Swampfox Sentinel II

  • Footprint: RMSc
  • Illumination: Red / Green
  • Reticle: 3 MOA Dot

Swampfox Liberty II

  • Footprint: RMR
  • Illumination: Red / Green
  • Reticle: 3 MOA Dot / Multi

Swampfox Justice II

  • Footprint: RMR
  • Illumination: Red / Green
  • Reticle: 6 MOA Dot / Multi

Swampfox Kraken

  • Footprint: RMR / MOS
  • Illumination: Red / Green
  • Reticle: 3 MOA Dot

Swampfox Liberator II

  • Footprint: T-2
  • Illumination: Red / Green
  • Reticle: 2 MOA Dot / Multi

Shop Swampfox Dot Sights


We also offer red dot alternatives in the form of 1x, 3x, and 5x fixed magnification prism optics, and both first focal plane (FFP) and second focal plane (SFP) LPVOs, all with glass-etched reticles and red or green illumination.

Prism Scopes

Swampfox Raider 1x Micro

  • Magnification: 1x
  • Illumination: Red / Green
  • Reticle: 6 MOA Dot / BRC

Swampfox Blade 1x

  • Magnification: 1x
  • Illumination: Red / Green / Amber
  • Reticle: BRC

Swampfox Trihawk 3x

  • Magnification: 3x
  • Illumination: Red / Green
  • Reticle: Trident BDC / Trident MOA

Swampfox Saber 5x

  • Magnification: 5x
  • Illumination: Red / Green
  • Reticle: Strike MOA

Shop Swampfox Prisms

Low Power Variable Optics

Swampfox Arrowhead SFP

  1. Magnification: 1-6x / 1-8x / 1-10x
  2. Illumination: Red / Green
  3. Reticle: Guerrilla Dot BDC / Guerrilla Dot MOA / Guerrilla Dot MIL

Swampfox Tomahawk II SFP

  1. Magnification: 1-4x / 1-6x
  2. Illumination: Red / Green / Amber / Blue
  3. Reticle: Guerrilla Dot BDC / Bright Fiber Optic

Swampfox Warhorse FFP

  1. Magnification: 1-6x
  2. Illumination: Red / Green
  3. Reticle: Dragoon MOA / Dragoon MIL

Shop Swampfox LPVOs

And because we know astigmatism affects every shooter differently, buy with confidence knowing your optic purchase is protected by a 30-Day Money-Back Satisfaction Guarantee. Customers have 30 days from delivery to try their optic risk-free. If the reticle color or optic itself doesn’t work for you or your astigmatism, simply return it for an exchange or full refund.

Shop Swampfox Optics

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