Around your pupil and iris is your cornea, which is, under usual circumstances, spherical. When light enters your eye, the cornea's job is to focus that light, directing it toward the retina, right in the rear part of your eye. What happens when the cornea is not exactly round? The eye can't direct the light properly on a single focus on your retina, and will cause your vision to be blurred. Such a situation is referred to as astigmatism.
Astigmatism is a fairly common diagnosis, and frequently accompanies other vision problems such as nearsightedness or farsightedness. Astigmatism oftentimes appears during childhood and often causes eye strain, painful headaches and squinting when left untreated. With kids, it may cause challenges in school, often when it comes to reading or other visual tasks like drawing and writing. Sufferers working with fine details or at a computer for long periods may experience more difficulty with astigmatism.
Astigmatism can be detected by a routine eye exam with an optometrist and then properly diagnosed with either an automated refraction or a retinoscopy test, which calculates the severity of astigmatism. Astigmatism is commonly tended to with contacts or glasses, or refractive surgery, which changes the flow of light onto the retina to readjust the focal point.
With contacts, the patient might be given toric lenses, which allow the light to bend more in one direction than another. Regular contacts move when you close your eyes, even just to blink. With astigmatism, the most subtle movement can completely blur your sight. After you blink, toric lenses return to the same place on your eye to avoid this problem. Toric contact lenses are available in soft or hard varieties, to be chosen depending on what is more comfortable for you.
Astigmatism may also be fixed with laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical procedure that involves the use of special rigid lenses to slowly reshape the cornea. You should explore options and alternatives with your eye care professional in order to determine what the best option might be.
For help explaining astigmatism to young, small children, let them look at a round teaspoon and an oval teaspoon. In the round teaspoon, their mirror image will appear regular. In the oval one, their face will be stretched. And this is what astigmatism means for your sight; you end up viewing the world stretched out a bit.
A person's astigmatism changes gradually, so be sure that you are periodically seeing your optometrist for a comprehensive exam. Also, be sure you have your children's eyes checked before they begin school. Most of your child's schooling (and playing) is largely visual. You can allow your child make the best of his or her schooling with a thorough eye exam, which will help diagnose any visual irregularities before they begin to impact academics, play, or other activities.