The cornea that surrounds your pupil and iris is, under normal conditions, spherical. When light enters your eye, the cornea's role is to help focus that light, directing it to the retina, in the anterior portion of your eye. What does it mean when the cornea isn't perfectly spherical? The eye is not able to direct the light properly on one focus on your retina, and will blur your vision. Such a situation is referred to as astigmatism.
Astigmatism is actually not a uncommon vision problem, and usually accompanies other refractive errors like nearsightedness or farsightedness. It often occurs early in life and can cause eye strain, headaches and the tendency to squint when left untreated. In kids, it can lead to obstacles in school, often when it comes to reading or other visual tasks like drawing and writing. Anyone who works with fine details or at a computer for excessive periods of time might find that the condition can be problematic.
Astigmatism is preliminarily diagnosed during an eye test with an optometrist and then properly diagnosed with an automated refraction or a retinoscopy exam, which measures the amount of astigmatism. The condition is commonly fixed with contact lenses or glasses, or refractive surgery, which changes the flow of light onto the retina to readjust the focal point.
For contact lenses, the patient is usually given toric lenses, which allow the light to curve more in one direction than another. Regular contact lenses shift when you blink. With astigmatism, the most subtle movement can cause blurred vision. Toric lenses return to the same position right after you blink. You can find toric contact lenses as soft or hard lenses.
Astigmatism may also be fixed using laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical procedure that involves wearing hard contacts to gradually change the shape of the cornea during the night. You should discuss your options with your eye doctor to determine what the best option might be.
When explaining astigmatism to young, small children, show them the backside of two teaspoons - one circular and one oval. In the round teaspoon, an mirror image appears proportionate. In the oval spoon, their face will be stretched. This is what astigmatism means for your sight; you end up viewing everything stretched out a bit.
A person's astigmatism changes over time, so be sure that you are regularly seeing your eye care professional for a proper exam. Additionally, make sure that your 'back-to-school' list includes taking your kids to an eye doctor. Most of your child's education (and playing) is predominantly a function of their vision. You can allow your child get the most of his or her schooling with a full eye exam, which will diagnose any visual abnormalities before they impact schooling, play, 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.