The cornea surrounding your iris and pupil is, under usual conditions, round. When light enters your eye from all angles, part of the job of your cornea is to help project that light, directing it to the retina, right in the rear part of your eye. But what is the result when the cornea isn't exactly round? The eye is not able to direct the light correctly on one focus on your retina's surface, and your vision becomes blurred. This is called astigmatism.
Astigmatism is actually not a uncommon vision problem, and mostly accompanies other refractive problems that require vision correction. It frequently occurs early in life and can cause eye fatigue, headaches and squinting when uncorrected. In kids, it may lead to obstacles in the classroom, often when it comes to reading or other visual tasks. Anyone who works with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer for long lengths might experience more difficulty with astigmatism.
Astigmatism is detected during a routine eye exam with an eye care professional and then fully diagnosed with either an automated refraction or a retinoscopy exam, which checks the degree of astigmatism. The condition is easily fixed with contacts or glasses, for those who prefer a non-invasive procedure, or refractive surgery, which alters the way that light hits the eye, allowing your retina to get the light correctly.
With contact lenses, the patient is usually given toric lenses, which control the way the light bends when it enters the eye. Standard contacts generally shift when you close your eyes, even just to blink. With astigmatism, the smallest eye movement can completely blur your sight. Toric lenses are able to return to the same place immediately after you blink. You can find toric contact lenses as soft or rigid varieties, to be chosen depending on what is more comfortable for you.
Astigmatism may also be corrected with laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical procedure that involves the use of special rigid contacts to slowly change the shape of the cornea. It's advisable to explore options with your eye doctor in order to determine what your best choice might be.
Astigmatism changes over time, so be sure that you're periodically making appointments to see your optometrist for a proper exam. Also, make sure that your 'back-to-school' checklist includes taking your kids to an eye care professional. The majority of your child's schooling (and playing) is mostly visual. You'll allow your child make the best of his or her schooling with a full eye exam, which will pick up any visual abnormalities before they begin to affect education, sports, or other extra-curricular activities.