One of the most frequent questions parents ask is whether contact lenses are safe for their children and when it’s appropriate for children to start wearing them. The answer to these questions is that age has nothing to do with weather children can or can’t wear contact lenses and everything to do with a child’s maturity and ability to handle them responsibly. Many infants and toddlers wear them, and some teenagers shouldn’t – it varies from child to child.
Some of the Most Common Child Eye Problems
Amblyopia or lazy eye, is reduced vision in the eye due to the misalignments of the eyes or disruption of light passing through the eye causing a need for eyeglasses. If recognized early, in preschool years, this disease responds well to treatment. If recognized after 9-10 years of age, amblyopia is much more difficult to treat and the child may have permanent vision loss. Some of the signs and symptoms of amblyopia include misaligned eyes, squinting one eye, bumping into objects or other signs of poor depth perception, head tilting, and double vision. Amblyopia therapy can include glasses, patching, eye drops, and sometimes surgery.
It has been estimated that one in every 250 children will develop a cataract either prior to birth or during childhood. While the exact cause of some cataracts found in both eyes (bilateral cataracts) is unknown, many are hereditary. Cataracts are any opacity or clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. A white area in the pupil and misalignment of the eye can be a sign of cataract. Pediatric cataracts that significantly obstruct vision require surgery. Patients subsequently require treatment with eyeglasses, bifocals, or contact lenses, and eye-patching. Often, pediatric cataracts result in some degree of lazy eye (amblyopia).
Astigmatism is a condition in which objects at both distance and near appear blurred. This results from uneven curvature of the cornea and/or lens which prevents light rays entering the eye from focusing to a single point on the retina, thereby causing blur. Astigmatism often occurs with myopia (nearsightedness) or hyperopia (farsightedness).
Myopia, or nearsightedness, is a condition where a near objects are seen more clearly than distant objects. A myopic eye causes light from distant objects to be focused before they reach the retina and results in blurred vision for distant objects. Excessive myopia in children can result in lazy eye (amblyopia). Holding objects very close and squinting may indicate significant myopia.
Hyperopia, or farsightedness, is a condition where a distant object is seen more clearly than near objects. Normally, the farsighted eye is smaller than normal. As a result, light rays do not focus properly on the retina at the back of the eye and causes blur. Hyperopia can be inherited. Infants and young children are typically somewhat farsighted, but this lessens as the eye grows. Some children can have higher amounts of hyperopia which can cause a constant blurry image in one or both eyes and prevent normal visual development (amblyopia). If not recognized early, this can result in permanent visual loss. Also, higher than normal amounts of hyperopia in children can cause inward crossing of the eyes (typically between 2 – 7 years of age) and treatment with eyeglasses can correct the eye misalignment (strabismus).
Strabismus is the term for misalignment of the eyes. An eye may be turned inward, outward, upward, or downward. The misalignment may be constant or intermittent. Strabismus can occur in the newborn, during childhood, or in adulthood. Strabismus in children can result in lazy eye (amblyopia) and cause permanent loss of vision if treatment is delayed. Depending on the type and cause of the strabismus, treatment may include eyeglasses, prisms, surgery, Botox injection, and eye-patching therapy.
Double vision (diplopia) is typically caused by misalignment of the eyes (strabismus), which causes one to see an object in two different places at the same time. The object can be displaced in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal fashion. Double vision can result from many conditions and should be evaluated at the time of onset. Treatment for double vision can include prism glasses, strabismus surgery, and Botox injection.
Nystagmus is an involuntary, rhythmic oscillation of the eyes. The eye movements can be side-to-side, up and down, or rotary. Nystagmus may be present at birth or acquired later in life. It may result from abnormal binocular fixation early in life. It also may accompany a number of eye disorders and neurological disorders.
Glaucoma is a condition that is associated with high pressure within the eye. This pressure can damage the optic nerve, which is critical for vision, resulting in permanent vision loss. Pediatric glaucoma is a rare condition that can present in the newborn or during childhood. Signs and symptoms of pediatric glaucoma include cloudy cornea, tearing, frequent blinking, light sensitivity, and redness of the eye.
Childhood epiphora, excessive tearing, is often noted soon after birth, but can be acquired later. When noted during infancy, it is usually due to blockage of the tear drainage system. This type of tearing often improves spontaneously by 6-12 months of age. Medical treatment includes tear sac massage and eyedrops, but if tearing persists, surgical probing of the drainage system may be required. Other rare causes of childhood tearing include pediatric glaucoma and ocular surface disease.
At what age can children start wearing contacts?
The opinions on this topic are divided. Half of the optometrists believe that children between the ages of 10 and 12 years old can be introduced to soft contact lenses, while the other half feel 13 to 14 years old is a suitable age for a child to begin wearing contact lenses.
Despite what they might believe, physically, children’s eyes can tolerate contact lenses at a very young age. Moreover, due to congenital cataracts or other eye conditions, some infants are fitted for contact lenses.
A recent study has shown that children as young as 8 years old are capable of handling and wearing contact lenses without any problems.
You know your children best, so if they 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 these duties well, they might be excellent candidates for contacts.
Some Factors to Consider
Wearing contact lenses takes some adjustment time and patience, which means that your child really has to want to use them. Wearing contact lenses involves a little more effort than wearing glasses. They require particularly good hygiene and care, which means that keeping their lenses clean is something that your child will need to commit to each night.
Contact lenses are designed to be comfortable, but they can become drier towards the end of the day and will need to be taken out as soon as possible. Because of this there are two types of contact lenses: daily disposable and reusable lenses. Depending of what your child or teenager chooses to wear, their eyecare doctor will show them how to care for the contact lenses.
Benefits of Contact Lenses for Children
Contact lenses are great for sport activities. They allow children the freedom to run around, take part in sports and play, without glasses getting in the way. Contact lenses also provide all-round vision, so children can safely spot things out of the corner of their eye. If your child is using ortho-k contact lenses — lenses for myopia control — they'll have an added advantage in sports. Even though ortho-k lenses are only worn while sleeping, they provide crisp vision during the day when they're not being worn. This means that your child won't have to worry about losing a lens, or getting dust between the lens and their eye, while playing sports.
The self-esteem of children and teens is closely related to their appearance. If children, especially teenagers, don't like the way they look in glasses, it can affect their personality, their performance in school, even their future. Contact lenses give children a self-esteem boost and can improve how they feel about their appearance. Once the children start wearing contact lenses the quality of their life and confidence dramatically improves, and many shy kids come out of their shell and begin participating more in life.
Those who wear contact lenses are free from the worry of their glasses breaking, cutting them or being knocked off and also, they are easier and cheaper to replace than glasses when they are lost.
And as for contact lenses with UV protection, it is proven that they can reduce children’s risk of eye problems such as cataracts and macular degeneration later on in their lifetime.
One more of the advantage of lenses is that there is no weight on a child's ears and nose, nor the constant adjusting of glasses as they move around, especially when looking from board to book in school. This adjustment can be become tiring and affect their concentration at school. There are chances of slowing down some vision problems if a child is wearing contact lenses.
Can a Contact Lens Get Stuck Behind The Eye?
It is impossible for contact lenses to get stuck behind the eye. The inner surface of the eyelids and front surface of the eye is lined with a thin, clear tissue called conjunctiva, which prevents the lens from slipping back there. So, there is no need to worry about this!
Trying An A Friend's Contact Lenses
This is something your child should never do, even if the lens is not for vision correction. Serious eye conditions can be passed along that way because of the dangerous microorganisms. If your child wants to try out how lenses feel and look before deciding whether or not to wear contacts, they should speak with their eye care provider - many eye doctors will provide a free trial pair of contact lenses.
Sleeping With Contact Lenses
Some contact lenses are specially made for overnight use, but most of them are not. Moreover, not everyone's eyes can adapt to this and only an eye doctor can judge whether someone is a good candidate to wear contacts overnight. No one should try wearing overnight lenses unless their eye care practitioner says it's okay.
Finally, the best and healthiest way to wear contacts is to remove and discard them every night.
Different Types of Contact Lenses and How to Decide on the Right Ones?
There are several groups of contact lenses based on their characteristics. The first group is based on the lens material - soft, gas permeable (GP), or hybrid contact lenses. Then we have those with oxygen permeability which means how much oxygen do they let pass to the cornea - here we have "silicone hydrogel" contact lenses that offer high levels of oxygen to your cornea, and are what most newer lenses are made from, and "hydrogel" lenses which are mostly older technology and generally offer lower levels of oxygen. The third group is made according to your wear schedule - whether you take them out before sleep. Lenses can be FDA approved for either daily wear or extended (overnight) wear. And finally, a group based on your replacement schedule, or how often you discard them and begin wearing a fresh pair. Disposable lenses are most popular and are replaced every one or two weeks. Daily disposables are discarded every day and require no care, making them a healthy and hassle-free option for teens.
And let's not forget that lenses come in colors and in designs for people who need bifocals or have astigmatism.
The best way to decide on which contact lenses are right for your child is to contact your eyecare professional. Your doctor can help you decide which combination of features is right for your child. In addition, the doctor will evaluate his or her eye structure, tears, and visual acuity to determine what lenses will be healthy and comfortable.
Are Contact Lenses Expensive and What If Contact Lenses Just Don't Work Out?
Surprisingly, compared to eyeglasses, contact lenses are affordable and the replacement of lost or torn contact lenses is a lot cheaper.
If contact lenses don't work out, the teen can always go back to wearing glasses and re-try contact lenses later on. Parents can let their child wear contacts for a trial period, so they can prove they are ready for the responsibility.
Part-time wear is also an option, and daily disposable contact lenses are especially good for this.