The cornea surrounding your pupil and iris is, under normal conditions, spherical. As light enters your eye from all angles, part of the role of your cornea is to project that light, directing it to your retina, right in the rear part of your eye. What happens when the cornea isn't perfectly spherical? The eye cannot project the light properly on a single focal point on your retina, and your sight becomes blurred. This condition is referred to as astigmatism.
Astigmatism is a fairly common vision problem, and mostly accompanies other vision problems like nearsightedness or farsightedness. It oftentimes occurs early in life and often causes eye fatigue, painful headaches and the tendency to squint when left uncorrected. With children, it can cause difficulty in the classroom, often with highly visual skills such as reading or writing. People working with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer monitor for extended lengths of time may find that the condition can be problematic.
Astigmatism is detected by a routine eye exam with an optometrist and afterwards fully diagnosed with an automated refraction or a retinoscopy test, which measures the degree of astigmatism. The condition is commonly corrected with contact lenses or eyeglasses, or refractive surgery, which changes the way that light hits the eye, allowing your retina to receive the light properly.
Toric lenses are commonly prescribed for astigmatism because they allow the light to curve more in one direction than another. Regular contact lenses move each time you close your eyes, even just to blink. With astigmatism, the slightest movement can cause blurred sight. Toric lenses are able to return to the exact same place right after you blink. You can find toric lenses in soft or hard lenses.
In some cases, astigmatism may also be fixed using laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical alternative involving wearing hard lenses to gradually reshape the cornea over night. You should explore options with your eye doctor to decide what your best option is for your needs.
For help explaining astigmatism to young, small children, it can be useful for them look at a circular teaspoon and an oval teaspoon. In the circular spoon, an mirror image appears normal. In the oval teaspoon, they will be stretched. And this is what astigmatism means for your eye; you end up viewing everything stretched out a bit.
A person's astigmatism can get better or worse gradually, so make sure that you are frequently seeing your eye care professional for a proper test. Additionally, make sure that you have your children's eyes checked before they begin school. The majority of your child's education (and playing) is largely a function of their vision. You'll allow your child get the most of his or her year with a full eye exam, which will help diagnose any visual abnormalities before they begin to impact schooling, sports, or other extra-curricular activities. It's important to know that astigmatism is very treatable, and that the earlier to you seek to treat it, the better off your child will be.