The cornea that surrounds your iris and pupil is, under usual circumstances, round. As light hits the eye from all angles, part of the job of your cornea is to help project that light, directing it at the retina, which is in the back of your eye. But what happens when the cornea isn't exactly spherical? The eye is not able to direct the light properly on a single focal point on your retina's surface, and your sight gets blurred. This is called astigmatism.
Astigmatism is actually a fairly common diagnosis, and frequently comes with other vision errors such as nearsightedness or farsightedness. Astigmatism oftentimes occurs early in life and can cause eye strain, headaches and squinting when uncorrected. In children, it may lead to obstacles in school, often with highly visual skills such as reading or writing. Those working with fine details or at a computer monitor for extended lengths of time may find that it can be a problem.
Astigmatism can be detected in an eye test with an eye care professional and afterwards properly diagnosed with an automated refraction or a retinoscopy test, which checks the severity of astigmatism. The condition is easily tended to with contacts 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 permit the light to bend more in one direction than another. Standard contact lenses have a tendency to shift each time you close your eyes, even just to blink. But with astigmatism, the slightest eye movement can completely blur your sight. After you blink, toric lenses return to the same place on your eye to avoid this problem. Toric lenses can be found in soft or rigid varieties, to be chosen depending on what is more comfortable for you.
In some cases, astigmatism may also be fixed using laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical alternative involving wearing special hard contact lenses to gradually change the shape of the cornea over night. You should explore your options and alternatives with your optometrist to determine what your best option might be.
Astigmatism changes over time, so be sure that you are periodically seeing your eye care professional for a comprehensive test. Also, be sure your 'back-to-school' checklist includes taking your kids to an optometrist. A considerable amount of your child's learning (and playing) is largely a function of their vision. You'll help your child make the best of his or her year with a thorough eye exam, which will help diagnose any visual irregularities before they impact education, play, or other extra-curricular activities.