Is Your Child Ready for Contact Lenses?

More than three million children in the U.S. wear contact lenses. How can parents determine if a child is ready to use contacts?

Who can wear contacts?

Eye-care professionals receive contact lens requests for children as young as 8, but a large cohort of doctors support contacts use around ages 12-13. Criteria include the child’s maturity, ability to perform proper hygiene and motivation to wear the lenses. 

Kriti Bhagat, OD, contact lens specialist and clinical and academic instructor at The Eye Institute at Salus University in Philadelphia and Elkins Park, PA, notes that the “parents’ role in kids’ lenses is vital.”  She won’t prescribe contact lenses without parental approval. 

Conversely, Sharon Lehman, MD, FAAP, FAAO, chief of ophthalmology at Nemours Children’s/duPont Hospital in Delaware and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ ophthalmology section, hesitates to provide contacts if only the parents want their child to use them. She emphasizes that children should be competent wearers who don’t need to rely on an adult — like the school nurse — for routine help.  

Who shouldn’t wear contacts?

Children with inflammation, autoimmune diseases, strong allergies and dry eyes may not tolerate contact lenses well. Also, eye doctors generally counsel children with major permanent or structural deficits in one eye to wear the optimal protection for the good eye — often special glasses, instead of contacts.

Learn the advantages and disadvantages of contact lenses on page 2. 

 

Advantages 

Many children wear eyeglasses before they try contacts. Glasses may interfere with sports or other activities, and children who’ve worn them may appreciate the better visual quality possible with contacts. Contacts may provide superior ultra-violet light protection compared to glasses as well. Many kids also prefer how they look when wearing contacts and feel more socially accepted than when they wear glasses. 

Disadvantages

Because contact lens use can introduce bacteria and irritants directly into the wearer’s eyes and increase the risk of eye infections, contacts require extra vigilance at each step of care and use. Lens users must avoid the temptation to take shortcuts for convenience or to save time or money. If a child might hang on to contacts beyond their recommended use date or top off cleaning solution, rather than use fresh solution each night, contacts aren’t for him.

For proper care and use of contact lenses, “Follow the rules you’re taught, not what your friends are doing,” advises Lehman. 

Lens types

Dr. Bhagat prefers daily disposable contacts for children because they reduce the risks that come with cleaning lenses every night. Daily lenses also work well for occasional users.

Lens wearers who can manage a higher level of care may choose lenses that they clean and soak every night. They toss the old ones on the schedule their eye professional prescribes.

Research continues on orthokeratology — wearing somewhat rigid (but air-permeable) lenses only at night to temporarily reshape the cornea and improve the user’s vision without lenses for the following day. Candidates for these lenses fit a certain range of near-sightedness and/or astigmatism.  

Whatever the lens choice, proper eye care is an essential aspect of kids’ health, and “good health habits last a lifetime,” reminds Dr. Bhagat.  

Ann L. Rappoport is a contributing writer to MetroKids

Categories: Medical