Astigmatism is one of the most common vision problems, but it is not an easy concept to understand and most people don't know what it is.
The good news is that astigmatism is not an eye disease. It is a refractive condition (how light is bent to focus onto the back part of the eye), somewhat similar to nearsightedness (myopia) and farsightedness (hyperopia). It can cause blurred vision, headaches, eyestrain and make objects at all distances appear distorted.
Children and even adults may not be aware that they have astigmatism, and may not associate the symptoms of a headache as being caused by a problem with vision. Children are less likely to complain of blurred or distorted vision. Astigmatism can cause problems that interfere with learning, and this is one of the reasons that it is important to have your child's eyes examined by an eye doctor each year. A vision screening (by a pediatrician or school nurses) is not the same as an eye examination.
Astigmatism is usually caused by the cornea (the clear front surface of the eye) being irregular in shape, and rather than being round, the cornea in individuals with astigmatism is more football or egg-shaped. Even many eye doctors think that astigmatism just happens. Developmental optometrists understand the underlying causes of astigmatism and how it develops.
In most cases, eyeglasses or contact lenses are prescribed. Rigid gas permeable (RGP or GP) contact lenses often provide the best correction for astigmatism. Special soft contact lenses for astigmatism, called toric soft lenses, are also available. Hybrid contact lenses are another option. These lenses have a GP center and a soft periphery to provide the clarity of gas permeable lenses and wearing comfort that is comparable to soft lenses. Another option, orthokeratology, changes the shape of the cornea and gets to the root of the problem. Vision Therapy addresses how the individual uses their visual system and addresses why the individual developed astigmatism, to begin with.