The cornea that surrounds your iris and pupil is, under normal conditions, round. When light hits your eye from all angles, part of the job of your cornea is to focus that light, directing it toward the retina, in the back of your eye. What does it mean when the cornea is not perfectly spherical? The eye cannot direct the light properly on one focus on your retina, and will cause your vision to be blurred. This is referred to as astigmatism.
Astigmatism is actually a fairly common vision problem, and mostly accompanies other vision errors that require vision correction. Astigmatism frequently appears early in life and often causes eye strain, painful headaches and the tendency to squint when untreated. In children, it can lead to difficulty in school, especially with reading or other visual tasks like drawing and writing. Anyone who works with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer for extended periods of time may find that it can be problematic.
Astigmatism can be preliminarily diagnosed during a routine eye test with an eye care professional and afterwards properly diagnosed with an automated refraction or a retinoscopy exam, which measures the degree of astigmatism. The condition is commonly corrected by contacts 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 prescribed toric lenses, which allow the light to bend more in one direction than another. Regular contact lenses shift when you blink. But with astigmatism, the smallest movement can completely blur your sight. Toric lenses are able to return to the exact same position right after you blink. Toric contact lenses are available in soft or hard varieties, to be chosen depending on what is more comfortable for you.
In some cases, astigmatism may also be corrected using laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical alternative that involves wearing special hard contact lenses to slowly reshape the cornea. You should discuss your options with your eye doctor to determine what the best option is for your needs.
Astigmatism evolves over time, so be sure that you're regularly visiting your eye doctor for a proper test. Additionally, make sure that your 'back-to-school' checklist includes a trip to an optometrist. The majority of 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 school year with a thorough eye exam, which will help detect any visual irregularities before they impact schooling, sports, or other activities.