Kids and Teens
More than 3.7m people in the UK enjoy the many benefits of contact lenses but only a very small proportion of them are children.
Nearly one in five children aged 5 to 15 years, rising to almost one in three 16-19 year olds need vision correction yet only about one in twelve of those who could wear contact lenses currently do so. Many more children and teens would potentially benefit from contact lenses.
One of the most common questions that eye care professionals hear from parents is,“When is it appropriate for children to start wearing contact lenses?”
Contact lens wear is not a matter of age. Many infants and toddlers wear them; some teenagers shouldn’t. In other words, every case is different.
With their bodies developing constantly throughout their childhood it is an entirely reasonable question whether contact lenses are safe for children. Parents should be reassured that, even from an early age, children’s eyes can tolerate lenses and it is not unknown for very young children to be fitted with lenses to help them to overcome certain conditions of the eye.
The self-esteem of children and teens is closely related to their appearance. If they don’t like the way they look in glasses, it can affect their personality, their performance in school, even their future. Once they start wearing contacts, many shy kids come out of their shell and begin participating more in life.
Most eye care professionals report great results with kids and contact lenses.
The advantages of contact lenses over glasses are well recognised but among the additional advantages for teens and children are:
• Better vision for sports and leisure activities where children often remove their glasses for fear of breaking them
• Improved appearance and social acceptance, especially with high levels of short sight (myopia) or long sight (hyperopia)
• Greater self-confidence, self-esteem and satisfaction
• Avoid frequent breakages of glasses
• Full time vision correction – particularly important in children with squint, astigmatism and poor vision in one eye to ensure the eyes work properly together and to avoid a ‘lazy eye’
• Easily updated when eyesight is changing frequently
• Added protection from ultraviolet (UV) exposure with some lenses
• Special indications for fitting to babies, usually under the hospital eye service
Adolescents who are myopic (nearsighted) typically have “progressive myopia” — that is, their nearsightedness becomes progressively greater over time. If left uncontrolled, myopia results in a higher incidence of complications such as retinal tears and detachments, glaucoma, cataracts, and a reduced quality of life.
Another potential benefit currently under investigation is the ability of contact lenses to slow the progress of short sight (myopia) in children. Various approaches have recently been suggested including orthokeratology and new soft lenses specifically designed to ‘control’ myopia. These approaches, and the size of the effect, need to be supported by large-scale, long-term studies. Click on the link to read more.
Can kids wear contact lenses?
While there may be no minimum or recommended age for wearing contact lenses, it’s still important to consider whether contacts are appropriate. This decision has less to do with age than with your child’s unique traits and context.
Whatever the age of the patient, it takes time and patience to adjust to wearing contact lenses for the first time and it is important that lenses are cared for properly. If you are considering whether your child should wear lenses then you need to take into account both of these issues and decide if your son or daughter is prepared to wear them properly and also to take care of them.
Here are some tips and considerations for navigating that first time wearing contact lenses.
If you are considering contact lenses for your child, take a look at how your child handles other responsibilities. Does he have good personal grooming habits, keep his bedroom and bathroom clean, and follow through with schoolwork and household chores?
If children need frequent reminders to keep things clean and follow good hygiene practices, they may not be ready for the responsibility of wearing and caring for contact lenses. But if they handle such duties well, they might be excellent candidates for contacts.
Children are naturally great contact lens wearers if they accept the responsibility for them. They typically are highly motivated to wear contacts and usually adapt well to them.
Kids also are less likely to have dry eyes — a condition that can cause contact lens-related problems for adults.
Practitioners find that kids of all ages usually take contact lens wear seriously and are more likely than adults to follow cleaning instructions to the letter. So they may have fewer problems with over-wearing their contacts or not using the correct contact lens solutions.
Also, keep in mind that switching your child from glasses to contact lenses need not be a permanent decision. If your child does not adapt well, or is not up to the responsibility of wearing and caring for contact lenses, he or she can simply return to wearing glasses. Contact lenses can always be tried again at a later date.