Surrounding your pupil and iris is your cornea, which is, under usual conditions, spherical. When light hits your eye from all angles, the cornea's job is to focus that light, directing it at your retina, in the rear part of your eye. What happens when the cornea isn't perfectly round? The eye is not able to project the light properly on a single focus on your retina's surface, and will cause your vision to be blurred. Such a situation is referred to as astigmatism.
Astigmatism is a fairly common vision problem, and usually accompanies other vision issues that require vision correction. Astigmatism frequently appears early in life and often causes eye fatigue, headaches and squinting when untreated. In kids, it may lead to difficulty at school, especially with highly visual skills such as reading or writing. Anyone who works with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer for extended periods may experience more difficulty with astigmatism.
Astigmatism can be detected in a routine 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 easily fixed with contact lenses or glasses, or refractive surgery, which changes the flow of light onto the retina to readjust the focal point.
Toric lenses are commonly prescribed for astigmatism because they control the way the light bends when it enters the eye. Standard contact lenses have a tendency to move each time you close your eyes, even just to blink. But with astigmatism, the slightest movement can totally blur your vision. 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 rigid varieties, to be chosen depending on what is more comfortable for you.
In some cases, astigmatism can also be corrected by laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical procedure that involves the use of rigid lenses to slowly reshape the cornea. You should explore options with your optometrist to decide what your best choice is for your needs.
When demonstrating the effects of astigmatism to children, show them a round teaspoon and an oval teaspoon. In the circular one, an mirror image appears normal. In the oval teaspoon, their face will be skewed. And this is what astigmatism means for your vision; those affected end up seeing everything stretched out a bit.
A person's astigmatism evolves over time, so be sure that you're periodically seeing your eye care professional for a proper test. Also, be sure your 'back-to-school' list includes taking your kids to an eye doctor. A considerable amount of your child's education (and playing) is predominantly visual. You can help your child make the best of his or her schooling with a full eye exam, which will diagnose any visual abnormalities before they affect academics, athletics, or other activities. It's important to know that astigmatism is very treatable, and that the earlier to you seek to treat it, the better off your child will be.