The cornea that surrounds your pupil and iris is, under normal circumstances, spherical. As light enters the eye, part of the job of your cornea is to help project that light, aiming it toward the retina, right in the rear part of your eye. What happens when the cornea is not perfectly round? The eye cannot direct the light correctly on a single focus on your retina's surface, and will blur your vision. This condition is called astigmatism.
Astigmatism is actually a fairly common vision problem, and frequently comes with other vision issues like nearsightedness or farsightedness. It often appears during childhood and often causes eye strain, headaches and squinting when left uncorrected. With kids, it can lead to challenges in school, particularly with reading or other visual tasks like drawing and writing. Anyone who works with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer monitor for extended lengths of time might experience more difficulty with astigmatism.
Diagnosis of astigmatism starts with a routine eye test with an eye care professional. Once detected, an automated refraction or a retinoscopy exam is performed to measure the degree of astigmatism. Astigmatism is commonly corrected 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.
For contacts, the patient is usually prescribed toric lenses, which allow the light to bend more in one direction than another. Regular contact lenses generally move each time you close your eyes, even just to blink. With astigmatism, the smallest movement can completely blur your vision. Toric lenses are able to return to the exact same place immediately after you blink. You can find toric lenses in soft or hard varieties, to be chosen depending on what is more comfortable for you.
Astigmatism may also be fixed using laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical procedure involving wearing hard lenses to gradually change the shape of the cornea during the night. You should explore your options and alternatives with your eye care professional in order to decide what the best option is for your needs.
For help demonstrating the effects of astigmatism to children, show them the back of two teaspoons – one round and one oval. In the circular spoon, their reflection appears proportionate. In the oval one, their reflection will be stretched. And this is what astigmatism means for your vision; those affected wind up seeing the world stretched out a bit.
Astigmatism changes over time, so make sure that you're frequently making appointments to see your eye care professional for a proper exam. Also, be sure your 'back-to-school' list includes a trip to an eye doctor. The majority of your child's schooling (and playing) is largely visual. You can help your child get the most of his or her year with a comprehensive eye exam, which will help detect any visual abnormalities before they affect education, athletics, or other extra-curricular activities.