Children and Contact Lenses

We all know wearing glasses can strongly affect a child’s self esteem, particularly as they get older and teenage years approach. Although fashionable eyewear has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, most parents of short-sighted children will find themselves bombarded with questions about contact lenses at some point. But when is it appropriate for a child to make the switch to lenses, and what options are available?

Contact lenses themselves pose no threat to the health of the eye when used properly, and children and babies born with conditions such as cataracts are frequently prescribed them. Yet eye care professionals are often reluctant to prescribe contact lenses for short-sighted children out of concerns for their ability to truly take on the responsibility of proper eye and lens care.

For these reasons Jeffrey Walline, in a study published by the American Academy of Optometry, concludes that daily disposable lenses are the perfect first-time choice for children and young teenagers. As the name suggests, these are inserted in the morning, worn for one day, and then removed and discarded at night. Their research concluded that 8-11 year old children had no difficulties in dealing with daily disposable lenses, were perfectly capable of taking good care of them, and found them comfortable and convenient to use. Children are also more used to taking instruction than adults, and to adapting to new situations and lifestyles, and therefore often make better lens patients.

Many may consider extended wear lenses a preferable alternative, as there is little more to worry about than inserting them once and removing them 30 days later. The key difference noted by Walline et al’s study however, is in what children learn of dealing with contact lenses. Whilst daily disposables require no regular cleaning and disinfecting, their frequent replacement schedule ensures that eye care assumes a place as part of a child’s daily routine. Inserting and removing lenses, as well as thoroughly washing hands when handling them, become second nature. This provides good training for subsequent progression to more cost-effective monthly disposables. If properly instructed about lens care, they will have no qualms about removing and taking care of it when a problem such as irritation does arise. Conversely, if only accustomed to monthly lens changes with parental supervision, minor problems may cause more of a difficulty.

There are so many contact lens alternatives available today that there is something suitable for most children, and the best way to find out is to discuss them all with your child and their optician. It is not a question of age, and ultimately you yourself will understand better than anyone what responsibilities your child is able to deal with. The process of discovering what is best for their sight needs will involve a little trial and error, but there is no reason why a capable and adaptable child should not enjoy the benefits of contact lenses as part of their young life.


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