The cornea surrounding your pupil and iris is, under normal conditions, spherical. As light hits your eye, the cornea's role is to help focus that light, aiming it toward the retina, in the rear part of your eye. But what is the result if the cornea isn't exactly round? The eye can't focus the light correctly on one focus on your retina's surface, and will cause your vision to be blurred. This condition is called astigmatism.
Astigmatism is not a rare vision problem, and frequently accompanies other refractive issues such as nearsightedness or farsightedness. It oftentimes occurs early in life and can cause eye strain, headaches and the tendency to squint when uncorrected. With kids, it can cause obstacles at school, often with highly visual skills such as reading or writing. Anyone who works with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer for extended periods may experience more difficulty with astigmatism.
Astigmatism is preliminarily diagnosed by a routine eye test with an optometrist and then fully diagnosed with either an automated refraction or a retinoscopy test, which measures the amount of astigmatism. The condition is commonly tended to by contact lenses or glasses, or refractive surgery, which changes the way that light enters the eye, letting the retina get 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. But with astigmatism, the smallest movement can completely blur your sight. After you blink, toric lenses return to the same place on your eye to avoid this problem. Toric contact lenses are available as soft or rigid varieties, to be chosen depending on what is more comfortable for you.
In some cases, astigmatism may also be fixed using laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical alternative that involves the use of rigid contacts to slowly change the shape of the cornea over night. You should explore your options with your eye care professional to decide what the best choice might be.
A person's astigmatism evolves over time, so make sure that you're frequently seeing your eye care professional for a proper exam. Also, be sure your 'back-to-school' checklist includes a trip to an eye care professional. A considerable amount of your child's learning (and playing) is largely visual. You can allow your child get the most of his or her school year with a thorough eye exam, which will diagnose any visual abnormalities before they begin to impact education, sports, or other extra-curricular activities. It's important to know that astigmatism is very treatable, and that the sooner to you begin to treat it, the better off your child will be.