The cornea around your iris and pupil is, under usual circumstances, round. As light enters the eye from all angles, the cornea's role is to help project that light, aiming it toward your retina, in the anterior portion of your eye. What happens when the cornea is not perfectly round? The eye is not able to focus the light correctly on a single focal point on your retina's surface, and will cause your vision to be blurred. This is known as astigmatism.
Many individuals have astigmatism and the condition usually accompanies other refractive errors that require vision correction. Astigmatism frequently occurs during childhood and often causes eye strain, headaches and squinting when left untreated. With children, it may cause difficulty in the classroom, especially with reading or other visual tasks. Those who work with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer monitor for long periods of time may find that it can be problematic.
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 check the severity of astigmatism. The condition is commonly corrected with contact lenses or glasses, or refractive surgery, which changes the way that light hits the eye, allowing your retina to get the light correctly.
For contacts, the patient might be prescribed toric lenses, which control the way the light bends when it enters the eye. Standard contacts have a tendency to move each time you close your eyes, even just to blink. But with astigmatism, the smallest movement can cause blurred vision. Toric lenses are able to return to the exact same position immediately after you blink. You can find toric contact lenses in soft or rigid lenses.
Astigmatism can also be rectified by laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical alternative involving the use of rigid contact lenses to gradually change the shape of the cornea over night. It's advisable to discuss your options with your eye doctor to determine what your best option is for your needs.
A person's astigmatism can get better or worse gradually, so make sure that you're regularly seeing your optometrist for a proper exam. Also, make sure you have your children's eyes checked before they begin school. Most of your child's learning (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 pick up any visual irregularities before they affect education, sports, or other 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.