The cornea surrounding your pupil and iris is, under perfect circumstances, spherical. When light enters the eye, the cornea’s role is to focus that light, directing it at the retina, in the back of your eye. But what happens when the cornea isn’t exactly spherical? The eye can’t focus the light properly on a single focus on your retina’s surface, and your vision gets blurred. Such a condition is referred to as astigmatism.

Astigmatism is actually a fairly common vision problem, and frequently accompanies other refractive errors that require vision correction. It often occurs early in life and often causes eye fatigue, headaches and squinting when uncorrected. In kids, it may cause challenges in the classroom, particularly with reading or other visual tasks. Anyone who works with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer for excessive lengths might find that the condition can be a problem.

Astigmatism is preliminarily diagnosed in an eye test with an optometrist and then fully diagnosed with an automated refraction or a retinoscopy test, which calculates the severity of astigmatism. The condition is commonly fixed with contact lenses or eyeglasses, 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.

For contact lenses, the patient is usually given toric lenses, which permit the light to curve more in one direction than another. Standard contacts have a tendency to shift each time you close your eyes, even just to blink. With astigmatism, the smallest eye movement can totally blur your vision. Toric lenses return to the exact same place immediately after you blink. You can find toric contact 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 procedure involving wearing special rigid contacts to gradually change the shape of the cornea during the night. You should discuss your options and alternatives with your optometrist to decide what your best option might be.

When explaining astigmatism to young, small children, show them the backside of two teaspoons – one circular and one oval. In the circular teaspoon, their mirror image appears regular. In the oval one, their reflection will be skewed. This is what astigmatism means for your vision; those affected end up viewing the world stretched out a little.

Astigmatism evolves gradually, so be sure that you are periodically seeing your optometrist for a comprehensive test. Also, make sure your ‘back-to-school’ list includes taking your kids to an optometrist. A considerable amount of your child’s learning (and playing) is predominantly visual. You’ll help your child make the best of his or her schooling with a thorough eye exam, which will help diagnose any visual abnormalities before they impact education, sports, or other activities. It’s important to know that astigmatism is highly treatable, and that the sooner to you seek to treat it, the better off your child will be.