The part of the eye that surrounds your iris and pupil is your cornea, which is, under perfect circumstances, spherical. When light hits your eye, part of the role of your cornea is to focus that light, aiming it to the retina, in the back of your eye. What does it mean if the cornea isn't perfectly spherical? The eye is not able to focus the light properly on a single focus on your retina, and vision gets blurred. Such a situation is known as astigmatism.
Astigmatism is a fairly common diagnosis, and frequently accompanies other vision problems that require vision correction. It frequently occurs during childhood and often causes eye fatigue, painful headaches and the tendency to squint when untreated. In kids, it can cause difficulty at school, often when it comes to reading or other visual tasks. Those who work with fine details or at a computer for excessive lengths might find that the condition can be a problem.
Diagnosis of astigmatism starts with an eye test with an eye care professional. Once detected, an automated refraction or a retinoscopy test is performed to measure the degree of astigmatism. Astigmatism is easily fixed by contact lenses or glasses, or refractive surgery, which alters 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 contacts shift each time you blink. With astigmatism, the slightest movement can completely blur your sight. After you blink, toric lenses return to the same position on your eye to avoid this problem. You can find toric contact lenses as soft or rigid varieties, to be chosen depending on what is more comfortable for you.
Astigmatism can also be rectified with laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical alternative involving the use of hard lenses to slowly change the shape of the cornea. You should explore your options with your eye doctor to decide what your best option is for your needs.
When explaining astigmatism to young, small children, show them a round teaspoon and an oval teaspoon. In the round spoon, an mirror image appears regular. In the oval spoon, their reflection will be stretched. This is what astigmatism means for your vision; those affected wind up seeing the world stretched out a bit.
Astigmatism changes gradually, so make sure that you're periodically making appointments to see your eye doctor for a proper exam. Also, be sure that your 'back-to-school' list includes a trip to an eye care professional. Most of your child's learning (and playing) is largely a function of their vision. You can allow your child get the most of his or her year with a thorough eye exam, which will help detect any visual abnormalities before they impact education, athletics, or other extra-curricular activities.