Surrounding your iris and pupil is your cornea, which is, under normal circumstances, round. When light enters your eye from all angles, part of the role of your cornea is to help project that light, directing it toward your retina, right in the back of your eye. But what is the result if the cornea is not exactly spherical? The eye can't focus the light correctly on one focus on your retina, and will cause your vision to be blurred. This is referred to as astigmatism.
Astigmatism is actually a fairly common vision problem, and usually comes with other refractive errors that require vision correction. Astigmatism often appears early in life and often causes eye strain, painful headaches and squinting when uncorrected. In kids, it can lead to difficulty at school, often with reading or other visual tasks. Sufferers who work with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer for long lengths of time may experience more difficulty with astigmatism.
Diagnosis of astigmatism starts with an eye test with an eye care professional. Once detected, an automated refraction or a retinoscopy exam is performed to measure the amount of astigmatism. Astigmatism is commonly corrected by contact lenses or glasses, for those who prefer a non-invasive procedure, or refractive surgery, which alters how that light hits the eye, allowing your retina to get the light properly.
Toric lenses are commonly prescribed for astigmatism because they control the way the light bends when it enters the eye. Regular contacts have a tendency to move each time you close your eyes, even just to blink. But with astigmatism, the slightest eye movement can cause blurred vision. Toric lenses are able to return to the exact same position right after you blink. You can find toric lenses as soft or rigid varieties, to be chosen depending on what is more comfortable for you.
In some cases, astigmatism may also be corrected by laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical alternative involving wearing hard contacts to slowly reshape the cornea. You should explore your options and alternatives with your eye care professional to decide what your best option is for your needs.
For help demonstrating the effects of astigmatism to children, let them compare a round teaspoon and an oval teaspoon. In the round one, their reflection will appear normal. In the oval teaspoon, their reflection will be skewed. This is what astigmatism means for your eye; you end up seeing everything stretched out a little.
Astigmatism can get better or worse gradually, so make sure that you're periodically seeing your eye doctor for a comprehensive exam. Additionally, make sure that your 'back-to-school' checklist includes a trip to an eye doctor. A considerable amount of your child's schooling (and playing) is predominantly visual. You can allow your child make the best of his or her schooling with a full eye exam, which will help pick up any visual irregularities before they impact academics, sports, 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.