Around your pupil and iris is your cornea, which is, under perfect conditions, round. As light enters the eye, part of the role of your cornea is to help project that light, directing it at the retina, right in the back of your eye. What does it mean if the cornea is not exactly spherical? The eye can't focus the light properly on one focal point on your retina's surface, and will blur your vision. This condition is called astigmatism.
Many individuals have astigmatism and the condition frequently comes with other refractive problems that require vision correction. Astigmatism often appears during childhood and can cause eye fatigue, painful headaches and squinting when left uncorrected. In kids, it may cause difficulty in school, especially when it comes to highly visual skills such as reading or writing. Sufferers who work with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer monitor for long lengths might experience more difficulty with astigmatism.
Diagnosis of astigmatism starts with a routine eye test with an eye care professional. Once detected, an automated refraction or a retinoscopy exam is performed to measure the amount of astigmatism. The condition is commonly corrected with contact lenses or eyeglasses, for those who prefer a non-invasive procedure, or refractive surgery, which changes the flow of light onto the retina to readjust the focal point.
With contact lenses, the patient might be prescribed toric lenses, which control the way the light bends when it enters the eye. Regular contacts move each time you close your eyes, even just to blink. But with astigmatism, the slightest eye movement can cause blurred vision. After you blink, toric lenses return to the same position on your eye to avoid this problem. Toric contact lenses are available in soft or hard lenses.
Astigmatism can also be fixed using laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical alternative involving wearing special hard lenses to gradually reshape the cornea. It's advisable to discuss your options and alternatives with your optometrist in order to determine what your best option might be.
Astigmatism evolves over time, so be sure that you are periodically visiting your eye doctor for a proper exam. Additionally, be sure that you have your children's eyes checked before they begin school. The majority of your child's learning (and playing) is predominantly a function of their vision. You can allow your child make the best of his or her schooling with a full eye exam, which will detect any visual irregularities before they begin to affect academics, play, or other extra-curricular activities. It's important to know that astigmatism is very treatable, and that the earlier to you begin to treat it, the better off your child will be.