The cornea that surrounds your pupil and iris is, under normal circumstances, spherical. As light hits your eye, part of the role of your cornea is to focus that light, aiming it to the retina, right in the rear part of your eye. What does it mean when the cornea is not perfectly spherical? The eye is not able to focus the light correctly on a single focus on your retina, and your sight gets blurred. Such a situation is referred to as astigmatism.
Astigmatism is actually a fairly common diagnosis, and frequently accompanies other vision problems that require vision correction. It frequently appears during childhood and often causes eye strain, painful headaches and squinting when uncorrected. With children, it can lead to challenges in the classroom, particularly when it comes to highly visual skills such as reading or writing. Anyone who works with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer monitor for long periods of time may experience more difficulty with astigmatism.
Diagnosis of astigmatism starts with an eye exam with an eye care professional. Once detected, an automated refraction or a retinoscopy exam is performed to measure the severity of astigmatism. Astigmatism is commonly corrected with contacts or eyeglasses, for those who prefer a non-invasive procedure, 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 allow the light to curve more in one direction than another. Standard contact lenses generally shift each time you close your eyes, even just to blink. With astigmatism, the most subtle eye movement can totally blur your vision. Toric lenses return to the same place right after you blink. You can find toric lenses in soft or hard varieties, to be chosen depending on what is more comfortable for you.
Astigmatism can also be rectified by laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical procedure involving wearing special rigid contact lenses to slowly change the shape of the cornea over night. You should discuss options and alternatives with your optometrist to decide what the best choice might be.
For help demonstrating the effects of astigmatism to young, small children, show them a circular teaspoon and an oval teaspoon. In the round spoon, an reflection will appear regular. In the oval spoon, they will be stretched. This is what astigmatism means for your eye; those affected end up viewing the world stretched out a little.
Astigmatism changes gradually, so be sure that you are periodically visiting your optometrist for a comprehensive exam. Additionally, be sure your 'back-to-school' checklist includes a trip to an eye doctor. The majority of your child's learning (and playing) is largely a function of their vision. You'll help your child make the best of his or her schooling with a full eye exam, which will help diagnose any visual abnormalities before they begin to impact schooling, sports, or other extra-curricular 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.