The cornea surrounding your iris and pupil is, under normal conditions, spherical. When light hits your eye from all angles, part of the role of your cornea is to focus that light, aiming it to the retina, in the back of your eye. But what is the result if the cornea is not perfectly round? The eye is not able to focus the light properly on one focal point on your retina's surface, and vision becomes blurred. This is called astigmatism.
Astigmatism is a fairly common diagnosis, and mostly comes with other refractive issues that require vision correction. Astigmatism often appears during childhood and can cause eye strain, painful headaches and squinting when untreated. With children, it can cause difficulty in the classroom, especially when it comes to highly visual skills such as reading or writing. Anyone who works with fine details or at a computer for extended periods may find that the condition can be a problem.
Astigmatism can be preliminarily diagnosed by a routine eye exam with an eye care professional and then fully diagnosed with an automated refraction or a retinoscopy test, which checks 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 the flow of light onto the retina to readjust the focal point.
With contact lenses, the patient is usually given toric lenses, which allow the light to curve more in one direction than another. Regular contacts have a tendency to move when you close your eyes, even just to blink. With astigmatism, the most subtle eye movement can cause blurred vision. Toric lenses return to the same position right after you blink. Toric lenses can be found as soft or rigid varieties, to be chosen depending on what is more comfortable for you.
Astigmatism can also be rectified by laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical procedure that involves the use of rigid contacts to slowly reshape the cornea during the night. It's advisable to explore your options with your optometrist in order to decide what your best choice might be.
Astigmatism can get better or worse over time, so be sure that you're periodically making appointments to see your optometrist for a comprehensive exam. Additionally, make sure you have your children's eyes checked before they begin school. Most of your child's schooling (and playing) is largely a function of their vision. You'll 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 affect academics, sports, or other activities.