The part of the eye that surrounds your iris and pupil is your cornea, which is, under usual conditions, round. When light enters your eye, part of the role of your cornea is to project that light, aiming it to your retina, which is in the rear part of your eye. What is the result if the cornea isn't perfectly spherical? The eye cannot focus the light properly on a single focus on your retina, and vision becomes blurred. This condition is known as astigmatism.
Astigmatism is not a rare diagnosis, and frequently comes with other refractive errors that require vision correction. It oftentimes appears during childhood and often causes eye strain, headaches and squinting when untreated. In children, it can lead to obstacles in the classroom, often when it comes to highly visual skills such as reading or writing. Anyone who works with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer for extended periods of time might find that it can be problematic.
Astigmatism can be preliminarily diagnosed in an eye exam with an eye care professional and afterwards fully diagnosed with an automated refraction or a retinoscopy test, which calculates the severity of astigmatism. Astigmatism is easily fixed 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.
With contact lenses, the patient is usually given toric lenses, which permit the light to bend more in one direction than another. Standard contact lenses generally shift each time you close your eyes, even just to blink. With astigmatism, the slightest movement can cause blurred sight. Toric lenses are able to return to the same position right after you blink. Toric contact lenses can be found in soft or rigid lenses.
Astigmatism may also be fixed with laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical alternative that involves the use of special hard lenses to slowly change the shape of the cornea during the night. It's advisable to discuss your options and alternatives with your optometrist in order to decide what your best option is for your needs.
When explaining astigmatism to children, show them the back of two teaspoons – one round and one oval. In the circular teaspoon, their reflection will appear proportionate. In the oval teaspoon, their reflection will be skewed. This is what astigmatism means for your eye; those affected end up viewing everything stretched out a little.
Astigmatism evolves gradually, so make sure that you're regularly seeing your eye doctor for a proper exam. Also, be sure that your 'back-to-school' list includes a trip to an eye care professional. The majority of your child's schooling (and playing) is mostly visual. You'll help your child get the most of his or her schooling with a thorough eye exam, which will detect any visual irregularities before they affect schooling, sports, or other extra-curricular activities.