The part of the eye that surrounds your iris and pupil is your cornea, which is, under usual conditions, round. When light hits the eye from all angles, the cornea's job is to project that light, directing it toward your retina, in the rear part of your eye. But what is the result when the cornea isn't exactly spherical? The eye cannot direct the light correctly on one focus on your retina's surface, and will blur your vision. Such a condition is known as astigmatism.
Astigmatism is actually a fairly common diagnosis, and mostly accompanies other refractive issues that require vision correction. Astigmatism often appears early in life and can cause eye fatigue, painful headaches and squinting when untreated. In kids, it may cause obstacles in the classroom, often when it comes to highly visual skills such as reading or writing. People who work with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer for long periods of time may find that it can be problematic.
Astigmatism can be preliminarily diagnosed in a routine eye test with an optometrist and afterwards properly diagnosed with either an automated refraction or a retinoscopy test, which calculates the severity of astigmatism. Astigmatism is easily corrected with contacts or eyeglasses, 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. Regular contact lenses have a tendency to move when you blink. But with astigmatism, the most subtle eye movement can completely blur your sight. Toric lenses return to the same position immediately after you blink. You can find toric lenses as soft or rigid lenses.
In some cases, astigmatism may also be rectified using laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical alternative involving the use of rigid contact lenses to slowly reshape the cornea. You should explore options with your optometrist in order to decide what the best option might be.
For help explaining astigmatism to young, small children, it can be useful for them compare a circular teaspoon and an oval teaspoon. In the round spoon, an mirror image appears normal. In the oval one, their reflection will be skewed. This is what astigmatism means for your vision; you wind up seeing the world stretched out a little.
Astigmatism can get better or worse gradually, so make sure that you're frequently visiting your eye doctor for a proper exam. Also, make sure you have your children's eyes checked before they begin school. Most of your child's learning (and playing) is predominantly a function of their vision. You can help your child get the most of his or her school year with a full eye exam, which will detect any visual abnormalities before they begin to impact schooling, athletics, or other activities. It's important to know that astigmatism is very treatable, and that the sooner to you seek to treat it, the better off your child will be.