Surrounding your pupil and iris is your cornea, which is, under normal conditions, round. As light enters the eye from all angles, the cornea's job is to project that light, aiming it at your retina, right in the anterior portion of your eye. What does it mean when the cornea is not exactly round? The eye cannot project the light correctly on one focus on your retina, and sight gets blurred. Such a condition is known as astigmatism.
Many individuals have astigmatism and the condition usually accompanies other refractive errors like nearsightedness or farsightedness. Astigmatism oftentimes appears during childhood and can cause eye fatigue, painful headaches and squinting when left uncorrected. In children, it can cause difficulty in school, especially with highly visual skills such as reading or writing. Anyone who works with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer for extended periods might experience more difficulty with astigmatism.
Diagnosis of astigmatism starts with an eye test with an optometrist. Once detected, an automated refraction or a retinoscopy exam is performed to check the degree of astigmatism. The condition is commonly fixed with contacts or glasses, or refractive surgery, which alters how that light hits the eye, allowing your retina to receive the light properly.
Toric lenses are commonly prescribed for astigmatism because they control the way the light bends when it enters the eye. Regular contact lenses generally move when you close your eyes, even just to blink. But with astigmatism, the slightest movement can totally blur your sight. After you blink, toric lenses return to the same position on your eye to avoid this problem. Toric lenses are available in soft or hard lenses.
In some cases, astigmatism may also be fixed using laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical procedure that involves the use of special hard contacts to gradually change the shape of the cornea. You should explore options with your eye doctor to determine what your best choice might be.
A person's astigmatism changes gradually, so make sure that you are periodically making appointments to see your optometrist for a comprehensive exam. Additionally, be sure that your 'back-to-school' list includes taking your kids to an eye doctor. The majority of your child's learning (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 abnormalities before they affect schooling, athletics, or other extra-curricular activities.