The cornea that surrounds your pupil and iris is, under normal conditions, round. When light hits your eye from all angles, the cornea's job is to help project that light, directing it toward your retina, right in the rear part of your eye. But what is the result when the cornea is not exactly round? The eye cannot project the light correctly on one focus on your retina's surface, and your sight gets blurred. This condition is called astigmatism.
Astigmatism is not a rare diagnosis, and mostly accompanies other vision problems like nearsightedness or farsightedness. Astigmatism frequently occurs early in life and often causes eye strain, headaches and squinting when uncorrected. With kids, it may lead to difficulty in school, particularly when it comes to highly visual skills such as reading or writing. Anyone who works with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer monitor for long lengths may find that the condition can be a problem.
Astigmatism is detected by a routine eye test with an eye care professional and then fully diagnosed with either an automated refraction or a retinoscopy test, which measures the severity of astigmatism. Astigmatism is commonly tended to with contacts or eyeglasses, for those who prefer a non-invasive procedure, or refractive surgery, which changes how that light enters the eye, allowing your retina to get the light correctly.
For contact lenses, the patient is usually given toric lenses, which control the way the light bends when it enters the eye. Regular contacts move each time you blink. But with astigmatism, the smallest eye movement can cause blurred sight. After you blink, toric lenses return to the same place on your eye to avoid this problem. You can find toric lenses in soft or hard lenses.
Astigmatism can also be rectified by laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical alternative that involves wearing special rigid contacts to gradually reshape the cornea. You should discuss options with your eye care professional to determine what the best choice might be.
For help explaining astigmatism to young, small children, have them compare the backside of two teaspoons - one circular and one oval. In the round one, an reflection appears normal. In the oval teaspoon, they will be skewed. This is what astigmatism means for your vision; those affected wind up viewing the world stretched out a bit.
Astigmatism evolves over time, so make sure that you are regularly visiting your eye care professional for a comprehensive exam. Also, make sure you have your children's eyes checked before they begin school. A considerable amount of your child's learning (and playing) is largely a function of their vision. You'll allow your child make the best of his or her school year with a comprehensive eye exam, which will pick up any visual irregularities before they affect schooling, athletics, or other extra-curricular activities.