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Astigmatism: Everything You Need to Know About This Common Condition

The part of the eye that surrounds your pupil and iris is your cornea, which is, under normal conditions, round. When light hits your eye, the cornea's job is to focus that light, aiming it toward your retina, right in the rear part of your eye. But what happens if the cornea isn't exactly spherical? The eye is not able to project the light properly on a single focus on your retina, and sight gets blurred. This condition is called astigmatism.

Many individuals have astigmatism and the condition usually accompanies other vision issues that require vision correction. Astigmatism frequently appears during childhood and can cause eye fatigue, painful headaches and squinting when untreated. With kids, it may lead to difficulty in school, often with highly visual skills such as reading or writing. Anyone who works with particularly small or detailed objects or at a computer for excessive lengths of time might experience more difficulty with astigmatism.

Diagnosis of astigmatism starts with an eye test with an eye care professional. Once detected, an automated refraction or a retinoscopy test is performed to measure the amount of astigmatism. The condition is commonly fixed with contact lenses or eyeglasses, or refractive surgery, which changes how that light hits the eye, allowing your retina to receive the light correctly.

With contact lenses, the patient is usually given toric lenses, which control the way the light bends when it enters the eye. Regular contacts shift each time you blink. With astigmatism, the most subtle eye movement can completely blur your sight. After you blink, toric lenses return to the same place on your eye to avoid this problem. You can find toric lenses in soft or rigid lenses.

Astigmatism may also be rectified by laser surgery, or by orthokeratology (Ortho-K), a non-surgical procedure involving wearing rigid lenses to gradually change the shape of the cornea. It's advisable to explore your options with your eye care professional in order to determine what the best choice is for your needs.

Astigmatism evolves over time, so be sure that you're regularly making appointments to see your optometrist for a proper exam. Additionally, make sure your 'back-to-school' checklist includes a trip to an eye doctor. The majority of your child's learning (and playing) is mostly visual. You can help your child make the best of his or her school year with a thorough eye exam, which will help diagnose any visual irregularities before they affect schooling, athletics, or other extra-curricular activities.