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 from all angles, part of the role of your cornea is to help project that light, directing it to your retina, right in the anterior portion of your eye. What happens if the cornea isn't exactly spherical? The eye cannot direct the light correctly on a single focal point on your retina, and will cause your vision to be blurred. Such a situation is known as astigmatism.
Astigmatism is not a uncommon vision problem, and usually comes with other vision problems that require vision correction. Astigmatism frequently occurs early in life and can cause eye fatigue, painful headaches and the tendency to squint when left untreated. With kids, it can cause challenges in school, especially when it comes to reading or other visual tasks. People working with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer monitor for extended periods may find that it can be a problem.
Diagnosis of astigmatism starts with an eye test with an optometrist. Once detected, an automated refraction or a retinoscopy test is performed to calculate the amount of astigmatism. The condition is commonly tended to by contact lenses or eyeglasses, 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.
Toric lenses are commonly prescribed for astigmatism because they control the way the light bends when it enters the eye. Regular contact lenses have a tendency to shift when you blink. But with astigmatism, the most subtle movement can completely blur your sight. Toric lenses return to the exact same position right after you blink. Toric lenses can be found in soft or hard varieties, to be chosen depending on what is more comfortable for you.
In some cases, astigmatism may also be corrected using laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical alternative that involves the use of rigid contact lenses to gradually change the shape of the cornea. You should discuss options and alternatives with your eye doctor to determine what the best option is for your needs.
A person's astigmatism can get better or worse gradually, so be sure that you are periodically seeing your eye doctor for a comprehensive test. Also, make sure you have your children's eyes checked before they begin school. Most of your child's education (and playing) is largely a function of their vision. You'll allow your child make the best of his or her year with a thorough eye exam, which will diagnose any visual abnormalities before they impact academics, sports, or other extra-curricular activities.