If your child wears glasses or needs glasses, you might be curious about contact lenses. Is your child old enough for them? How could they help your child’s vision or quality of life? And what are the risks?
Advances in eye care mean contact lenses can be good options for many children. With newer lens technology, contact lenses are more comfortable than ever and many children find them easy to wear. And when contacts are used responsibly and with good handwashing and hygiene, they are safe and effective.
We connected with Cori Jones, an optometrist with Banner – University Medicine, to learn more about what you should know if you’re considering getting contact lenses for your child.
While parents often ask what age a child can start wearing contacts, Dr. Jones said that’s not the most important factor.
“Technically, kids of any age can be fit in contact lenses,” she said. In fact, babies born with cataracts usually need a high prescription that can’t be corrected well with glasses. “These children may start wearing contact lenses as young as six weeks old.”
For Dr. Jones, motivation is what matters. “I want to see that the child is interested in wearing contact lenses. If it's a case where a parent is pushing it and the kid isn't interested, they're not a good candidate,” she said.
That said, as a general rule she starts considering contact lenses as a good option for vision correction for kids 10 years old and older.
What to take into consideration
Along with motivation and age, other factors can influence whether your child is ready for contact lenses:
- How mature is your child? Children need to keep their contact lenses clean and follow the schedule for wearing them. Jones said she evaluates how well children can follow directions. If your child is mature enough to handle other daily tasks, they may be ready for the responsibility of contact lenses.
- How well does your child take care of their hygiene? Do they have dirt under their fingernails or are they well-groomed? “Like adults, children are at risk of complications like infections, inflammation, scarring and loss of vision if they are not compliant with their contact lens care regimen,” Dr. Jones said.
- Are you prepared to be involved? Parents play a key role in talking to children about contact lenses and making sure they care for them properly. You'll want to understand what your child thinks about contacts, make sure they know what their responsibilities will be and address any of their concerns.
- Do they participate in sports or other activities? Contact lenses may be a better option than glasses for active children.
- How strong is their prescription? “If they have a high prescription that causes things to look abnormally magnified or minified, we may consider fitting them into a contact lens sooner,” Jones said. In some cases, contact lenses may help slow down changes in near-sightedness for children who progress quickly or have large changes in their prescription every year.
- What does your eye care provider think? Your eye doctor can evaluate your child's eye health, share their thoughts on whether your child is ready and point out any concerns or considerations.
How kids can benefit from contact lenses
There are a few different ways that contact lenses can be better than glasses for many children. Improved self-esteem is one. Even though it’s common for kids to wear glasses, many kids – especially teenagers – might feel self-conscious about how they look in them. Contact lenses aren't noticeable, so your child may feel more confident wearing them.
Contact lenses can also give kids better peripheral vision. That can be especially important for children who are active or involved in sports. “With contacts, kids who are highly active in sports or other activities have the benefit of good vision without having to worry about their glasses falling off, breaking or sliding down their nose due to sweat,” Dr. Jones said.
Contact lenses can be a better option for kids with specific vision issues. They can help correct astigmatism (a common imperfection in the curvature of the eye), and they can be updated more easily than glasses if your child's prescription changes often.
Choosing the right lenses
Your eye doctor can help you evaluate the different types of contact lenses that are suitable for your child. A health care provider will consider your child's prescription, eye health and lifestyle and recommend the type of lens that should work best. Be sure to share your child's activities, hobbies and vision challenges.
- Soft contact lenses are the most common option for children, and they are usually the most comfortable. You can choose from daily wear and extended wear options. Daily wear lenses, which you wear once and throw away at the end of the day, are a popular choice for children because they have less risk of infection.
- Rigid gas-permeable lenses are less common. But they can offer clear vision for children with certain conditions. They can take a bit more time for children to get used to, however.
- Toric lenses can correct astigmatism and are available in both soft and rigid gas-permeable versions.
- Orthokeratology (corneal reshaping treatment) is becoming a popular option for children. “These rigid lenses are worn overnight to reshape the front of the eye and provide vision correction during the day, Jones said. “Be sure to ask your eye doctor about risks and benefits if you are interested in this type of lens treatment for your child.”
What to expect from your child's eye doctor
A health care provider who specializes in vision is key for helping you decide if your child is ready for contact lenses.
An eye doctor will examine your child's eyes thoroughly to check for any conditions or concerns. They can help you decide if your child is mature enough to wear contact lenses.
They will talk to you and your child about the different types of contact lenses that might be good choices.
If it turns out that contact lenses are a good option for your child, your provider will teach you and your child about hand washing, putting the lenses in and out and storing the contacts. Both you and your child must understand how important it is to take care of the contact lenses properly.
Your child should see an eye care provider regularly to make sure their eyes stay healthy, and their vision is corrected properly. Children's eyes can change quickly, so with regular checkups you can make sure their prescription is up to date.
How to help your child get started
You've decided to go ahead and get contact lenses for your child. Now what?
- Start slowly: At first, your child will probably only wear the contact lenses for a short period. As they get comfortable with the lenses, they will be able to wear them for longer time periods.
- At first, supervise your child as they put in and take out their contact lenses: You can give them support and guidance. “Be ready to provide a lot of encouragement,” Jones said. “Learning to apply contact lenses can be frustrating, so be sure to set aside time to practice together until your child becomes comfortable with the process.”
- Create a schedule for your child to follow: That way you build a routine for cleaning, disinfecting and storing the lenses properly. Make sure your child uses the right cleaning solutions and follows the instructions of your health care provider. Replace disposable contact lenses as recommended.
- Answer your child's questions: If you don't know the answer, reach out to your eye care provider for advice. Check-in with your child regularly to see how they are adjusting to the contact lenses. Involve your child in any decisions regarding their vision and eye care.
The bottom line
“Contact lenses can be great for kids,” Jones said. If your child is mature and wants to give contact lenses a try, talk to your eye care provider or reach out to an expert at Banner Health to learn more about the best options for your family.