Around your iris and pupil is your cornea, which is, under usual conditions, round. When light enters your eye, part of the job of your cornea is to help project that light, directing it at your retina, in the back of your eye. What happens when the cornea is not exactly spherical? The eye is not able to direct the light properly on a single focal point on your retina's surface, and will blur your vision. Such a condition is referred to as astigmatism.
Astigmatism is a fairly common vision problem, and usually comes with other vision errors that require vision correction. Astigmatism frequently appears early in life and often causes eye fatigue, painful headaches and the tendency to squint when left uncorrected. With kids, it may cause challenges in the classroom, particularly when it comes to highly visual skills such as reading or writing. Those who work with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer for long lengths of time may find that the condition can be a problem.
Diagnosis of astigmatism starts with a routine eye exam with an eye care professional. Once detected, an automated refraction or a retinoscopy exam is performed to calculate the severity of astigmatism. The condition is easily fixed with contact lenses or eyeglasses, for those who prefer a non-invasive procedure, or refractive surgery, which alters the flow of light onto the retina to readjust the focal point.
For contacts, the patient might be prescribed toric lenses, which allow the light to curve more in one direction than another. Regular contacts generally move each time you blink. But with astigmatism, the smallest eye movement can cause blurred sight. Toric lenses return to the same position right after you blink. Toric contact lenses can be found in soft or rigid varieties, to be chosen depending on what is more comfortable for you.
In some cases, astigmatism may also be fixed by laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical alternative involving wearing rigid contact lenses to slowly reshape the cornea during the night. You should discuss options and alternatives with your eye care professional to decide what the best choice is for your needs.
A person's astigmatism can get better or worse gradually, so be sure that you're frequently visiting your eye doctor for a proper test. Also, make sure that you have your children's eyes checked before they begin school. Most of your child's education (and playing) is largely a function of their vision. You can help your child get the most of his or her year with a comprehensive eye exam, which will help pick up any visual abnormalities before they affect academics, sports, or other activities. It's important to know that astigmatism is highly treatable, and that the sooner to you seek to treat it, the better off your child will be.