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Not long after your child receives his or her first pair of glasses, they often want to know when they can begin wearing contact lenses. Today, children are wearing contact lenses younger than ever before. While most do not begin wearing them before age 12, more optometrists and ophthalmologists are successfully fitting children younger than even five to 10 years ago.
Contact lenses are worn to improve vision, change appearance, and/or for sports or activities where glasses can hinder performance. Many children report improved self-confidence and self-esteem after wearing contacts due to their ability to more easily participate in physical activities and a perceived improvement in their appearance.
Success with contacts depends on a child's maturity and motivation. A child that is organized, follows directions well and has good hygiene will have an easier transition. It is also important to find a doctor with whom your child is comfortable.
Many doctors prescribe disposable soft contact lenses for children. Soft contacts tend to be more comfortable and less likely to dislodge from the eye, while the newer materials allow more oxygen to reach the eye and are considered healthier. The availability of disposable contact lenses has improved for patients with high prescriptions and astigmatism.
Disposable lenses are a good option, as they stay cleaner than lenses kept for longer periods of time. A supply of lenses can be kept on hand in case one is lost or tears. Daily disposable contact lenses have become increasingly popular. Children do not need to be concerned about cleaning the daily disposables since a new pair is opened and worn daily. They tend to be a more expensive option costing about $1-$2 per day, but don’t require the additional expense of cleaning solutions.
Rigid gas permeable contact lenses are another option. While these lenses are thicker and have a longer adaptation period for comfort, they are very healthy and appropriate for certain prescriptions. The lenses have a smaller diameter than the soft contact lenses that, for some children, can make handling easier. One pair should last at least a year. The cost for a pair is more economical than a year’s supply of disposable lenses, but the cost per lens is higher.
As a parent, you may worry about infection with contact lenses. With proper care, children are not more at risk than adults. The risk of contact lens-related infections is primarily due to eye health and care issues, and not related to age. Certain behaviors, such as not following contact lens replacement and wearing schedules, can increase the risk to the eye’s health. Younger children, in many ways, are better at following directions than teenagers and adults who often re-interpret directions to their benefit.
If your child is interested in trying contact lenses, don’t be afraid to discuss it with the optometrist or ophthalmologist at your next visit. A patient that is motivated and responsible stands a good chance of success with contact lenses, regardless of age.
Barbara Aalbers, O.D., works with children at Mercy Eye Care.