Is my child ready for contact lenses?
Glasses are trendier than ever, but some kids are ready to move on. When can your child begin wearing contact lenses?
Signs of readiness
"There are no set guidelines which limit the exact age for starting children with contact lenses," says Dr. Grace M. Kim, who chairs the clinical advisory panel at America’s Best/National Vision, Inc. "Our individual doctors fit different age groups of children at their comfort level and based on clinical findings."
Dr. Kim explains that, in general, eye doctors should evaluate a variety of factors to determine the appropriateness of contact lenses for a child:
- Is the child mature enough to be responsible for the wearing and caring of the contact lenses?
- Does the child maintain an acceptable level of personal hygiene?
- Does the child display the manual dexterity to handle and insert the contact lenses?
- What is the child's motivation for wanting contact lenses?
"It is essential [for eye doctors] to have an open conversation with the child's parents, since they can best assess their child's daily habits and accountability," advises Dr. Kim.
The pros of contact lenses for kids
Every child has his own reason for wanting to wear contact lenses instead of glasses, but some motivations are more common than others:
Better vision: "Contact lenses are fitted on the front surface of the cornea and therefore provide less peripheral visual obscuration," says Dr. Kim. "In addition, [clinical research indicates that] some contact lenses can help slow the progression of nearsightedness."
Activities: Unlike eyeglasses, contact lenses won't slide off during sports and physical activities. They can improve performance and cause fewer injuries, especially during contact sports. "Glasses made out of impact-resistant polycarbonate material can still cause serious injuries to the eyes during the impact," warns Dr. Kim.
Social acceptance: Glasses as a fashion accessory is on trend right now, but some children still prefer the look of contacts. (Those "four eyes" taunts are as hurtful today as they've always been.) The aesthetics are particularly improved for those children who have high prescriptions, increasing self-esteem and social acceptance.
The cons of contact lenses for kids
Over-wearing: "Over-wearing is a major negative aspect of children wearing contacts," says Dr. Kim. "Consequently, corneal complications stem from a lack of understanding in wearing and caring for contact lenses."
Misinformed parents: Contact lenses aren't always the child's idea. "Some parents initiate the concept for their child due to the child's noncompliance when wearing eyeglasses or because of frequent breakage or misplacement of the glasses," says Dr. Kim. But contact lenses are intended to be a temporary substitute to enhance the quality of life. They are not intended to replace glasses. "If the child was not responsible for taking care of a pair of glasses, it is safe to assume that the child could easily mishandle and not properly care for the contact lenses."
Uninvolved parents: "Parents should take an active role in endorsing proper wearing and caring of contact lenses in children," says Dr. Kim.
- Remind your child to remove contacts before going to bed.
- Routinely encourage your child to replace the lenses according to his wearing schedule.
- Provide a continual supply of appropriate contact lens cleaning solutions. ("Some solutions are not biocompatible with certain types of contact lenses," cautions Dr. Kim.)
"It is essential for parents, as well as the child, to be educated and fully informed about the proper caring and maintenance of contact lens wearing," advises Dr. Kim.
The best prescriptions for contact lenses
"In general, contact lenses typically provide better vision than glasses for nearsightedness (myopia) patients," says Dr. Kim. "However, with advances in the contact lens technology, contact lenses for astigmatism and farsightedness (hyperopia) can provide vision quality that is compatible with that of glasses."
But not all ranges of prescriptions are available in all contact lenses. Different brands of contacts lenses have different ranges of available prescriptions. Trust your child's eye doctor. "Choosing the appropriate contact lenses and being properly fitted will ensure visual success and comfort with contact lenses."
Advice for parents and kids
Before making the decision to move forward with contact lenses, consider these tips from Dr. Kim:
- Deciding to wear contact lenses is a commitment for both kids and their parents. Teach your children to handle them appropriately, and stay actively involved in the care of the contact lenses.
- Frequent visits to the eye doctor help your child maintain optimal ocular health and help prevent complications associated with contact lens overwearing and abuse.
- Help your child develop the positive habit of wearing glasses in the evenings after contacts are removed. This routine helps lessen the risk of developing ocular complications with chronic contact lens wearing.
- Always keep a backup pair of glasses in case of an infection or inflammation, which could make wearing contacts difficult or impossible.