The cornea surrounding your pupil and iris is, under usual conditions, spherical. When light hits the eye from all angles, the cornea's job is to project that light, directing it to the retina, right in the back of your eye. What is the result if the cornea isn't perfectly round? The eye cannot direct the light correctly on a single focal point on your retina, and will cause your vision to be blurred. This is called astigmatism.
Many individuals have astigmatism and the condition usually comes with other vision problems that require vision correction. Astigmatism frequently occurs early in life and often causes eye strain, headaches and the tendency to squint when untreated. In children, it may cause obstacles in school, especially with highly visual skills such as reading or writing. Anyone who works with fine details or at a computer monitor for extended periods of time may find that the condition can be problematic.
Diagnosis of astigmatism starts with an eye test with an eye care professional. Once detected, an automated refraction or a retinoscopy test is performed to check the amount of astigmatism. Astigmatism is commonly fixed with contacts or eyeglasses, or refractive surgery, which alters how that light enters the eye, letting the retina receive the light properly.
Toric lenses are commonly prescribed for astigmatism because they control the way the light bends when it enters the eye. Regular contact lenses generally move when you blink. With astigmatism, the smallest eye movement can completely blur your sight. After you blink, toric lenses return to the same position on your eye to avoid this problem. You can find toric contact lenses as soft or hard lenses.
Astigmatism can also be fixed with laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical procedure involving wearing special hard contact lenses to slowly reshape the cornea. You should discuss your options with your eye doctor to decide what the best choice is for your needs.
When demonstrating the effects of astigmatism to young, small children, it can be useful for them compare a circular teaspoon and an oval teaspoon. In the round one, an mirror image will appear proportionate. In the oval spoon, their face will be skewed. This is what astigmatism means for your eye; those affected end up viewing everything stretched out a bit.
Astigmatism changes gradually, so make sure that you are periodically seeing your eye doctor for a proper exam. Also, be sure that your 'back-to-school' checklist includes taking your kids to an eye doctor. A considerable amount of your child's schooling (and playing) is largely visual. You can help your child get the most of his or her year with a full eye exam, which will help pick up any visual abnormalities before they begin to affect education, athletics, or other activities. It's important to know that astigmatism is highly treatable, and that the earlier to you begin to treat it, the better off your child will be.