The part of the eye that surrounds your pupil and iris is your cornea, which is, under normal circumstances, round. As light hits the eye from all angles, part of the role of your cornea is to focus that light, aiming it to the retina, which is in the back of your eye. What does it mean if the cornea is not exactly round? The eye cannot direct the light properly on a single focal point on your retina, and sight gets blurred. Such a situation is known as astigmatism.
Astigmatism is actually not a rare vision problem, and usually comes with other vision problems such as nearsightedness or farsightedness. It often occurs early in life and often causes eye strain, headaches and squinting when left untreated. With children, it may lead to challenges in the classroom, especially when it comes to highly visual skills such as reading or writing. People working with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer monitor for excessive lengths might find that the condition can be problematic.
Astigmatism is preliminarily diagnosed by a routine eye exam with an eye care professional and afterwards properly diagnosed with an automated refraction or a retinoscopy exam, which calculates the degree of astigmatism. Astigmatism is easily tended to with contacts or glasses, for those who prefer a non-invasive procedure, or refractive surgery, which changes the flow of light onto the retina to readjust the focal point.
Toric lenses are commonly prescribed for astigmatism because they permit the light to bend more in one direction than another. Standard contacts shift when you close your eyes, even just to blink. But with astigmatism, the most subtle eye movement can completely blur your sight. 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.
In some cases, astigmatism may also be corrected using laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical alternative involving wearing rigid lenses to gradually reshape the cornea during the night. You should explore options and alternatives with your eye doctor in order to determine what the best option is for your needs.
Astigmatism can get better or worse gradually, so be sure that you're regularly visiting your eye care professional for a proper exam. Also, make sure that you have your children's eyes checked before they begin school. A considerable amount of your child's schooling (and playing) is mostly visual. You can help your child make the best of his or her year with a thorough eye exam, which will detect any visual irregularities before they impact education, play, or other extra-curricular activities. It's important to know that astigmatism is highly treatable, and that the sooner to you begin to treat it, the better off your child will be.