The cornea surrounding your iris and pupil is, under usual conditions, spherical. As light enters your eye from all angles, the cornea's role is to help focus that light, directing it to the retina, in the rear part of your eye. But what happens if the cornea is not perfectly spherical? The eye cannot focus the light properly on one focal point on your retina's surface, and your vision becomes blurred. This condition is called astigmatism.
Astigmatism is actually a fairly common diagnosis, and mostly accompanies other refractive errors such as nearsightedness or farsightedness. Astigmatism often occurs during childhood and often causes eye fatigue, painful headaches and the tendency to squint when left uncorrected. With kids, it can lead to obstacles at school, especially with highly visual skills such as reading or writing. Anyone who works with fine details or at a computer for excessive lengths may experience more difficulty with astigmatism.
Astigmatism can be detected by a routine eye exam with an eye care professional and afterwards fully diagnosed with an automated refraction or a retinoscopy test, which checks the amount of astigmatism. Astigmatism is easily tended to by contact lenses or glasses, for those who prefer a non-invasive procedure, or refractive surgery, which changes the way that light enters the eye, allowing your retina to receive the light correctly.
Toric lenses are commonly prescribed for astigmatism because they control the way the light bends when it enters the eye. Standard contacts generally move each time you close your eyes, even just to blink. But with astigmatism, the smallest eye movement can totally blur your vision. Toric lenses return to the same place immediately after you blink. Toric contact lenses are available as soft or rigid lenses.
In some cases, astigmatism can also be rectified with laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical alternative that involves wearing special hard contact lenses to slowly change the shape of the cornea over night. You should explore options with your eye doctor in order to determine what the best choice is for your needs.
For help explaining astigmatism to young, small children, let them compare a circular teaspoon and an oval teaspoon. In the circular spoon, their reflection will appear normal. In the oval one, their reflection will be stretched. This is what astigmatism means for your vision; you end up viewing the world stretched out a little.
Astigmatism evolves gradually, so make sure that you're frequently visiting your eye care professional for a comprehensive test. Also, make sure your 'back-to-school' checklist includes a trip to an optometrist. A considerable amount of your child's schooling (and playing) is predominantly a function of their vision. You'll help your child get the most of his or her school year with a thorough eye exam, which will help pick up any visual abnormalities before they affect schooling, play, or other extra-curricular activities.