It’s actually not a matter of age when a child can wear contact lenses. What families need to consider is whether the child can practice good hygiene and take responsibility to care for the lenses. There may be 9-year-olds who can responsibly handle contacts and 16-year-olds who cannot. Virtually all contacts nowadays are “soft,” meaning they don’t require a long adaptation period in order to wear them easily. How the patient handles the contacts is what really matters.
Many families start to think about contact lenses when their kids are involved in sports. This is understandable since glasses may be cumbersome and offer less-than-perfect vision on the field of play. Parents shouldn’t push for kids to wear contacts, but ask themselves instead: Is the child motivated and capable of caring for contact lenses conscientiously? That is key. Here are some other general questions that I get from parents:
Are kids at greater risk of complications from wearing contact lenses?
Kids don’t have any greater risk than older teens and adults for complications from contact lenses as long as they practice good hygiene and care which means:
- Never use tap water or put contacts in the mouth to clean them. There is bacteria in both drinking water and saliva. Only use contact lens cleaning solution.
- When contacts are removed, make sure they soak in cleaning solution, not saline, in a clean lens case.
- Change the contact lens case every 3 months or so – “New quarter, new case” is what I tell my patients to help them remember. When lenses are stored in the same case for six months, the risk of eye infection increases five-fold.
- Don’t sleep with contacts in, OR swim with them in – you’re risking infection.
What are the risks if proper contact lens hygiene is not followed?
Without good hygiene, the lenses can pick up bacteria that can permeate the corneal epithelium, a thin skin-like covering over the cornea. This may cause infection, abrasion or even lead to a corneal ulcer, a potentially dangerous condition that is not only painful, but can result in vision loss. If a child wearing contacts has eye pain or noticeable redness, have them remove the lenses and call your ophthalmologist immediately.
Does it matter where I buy contact lenses?
What matters most is being properly fit for lenses by a qualified provider and buying lenses only from reputable vendors who will fill your unique prescription for vision and fit. Online vendors and national eye care chains are fine as long as there is a fitting and a prescription involved. This is also true for cosmetic lenses purchased to change eye color – you may not need a prescription for vision, but you’ll still need one for fit.
Some cosmetic contact lenses – such as wild colors, sunbursts, and cat’s eyes – may be sold in corner stores or by vendors that do not specialize in eye care. Don’t ever purchase lenses from these sources because they are not custom fitted for your eyes and they are often manufactured overseas with questionable materials and scant regulatory oversight. Improperly fit lenses may cause eye abrasions and ulcerations. Many people buy these at Halloween – bad idea. The results may be scarier than the effects!
Do you recommend disposable contacts for kids?
There are daily disposable lenses and planned replacement lenses. Just follow the rules for each. Daily disposable lenses means just that – you throw them away and grab a fresh pair every day. This is the more expensive option. Planned lenses are worn during the day and stored at night for a specified time, then discarded in favor of a new pair. There are differing types of planned replacement lenses – some are worn for two weeks, some for 30 days.
I recommend a planned replacement program so kids won’t be tempted to stretch their lenses for longer than they should. By signing up for automatic refills, you won’t run out and risk your child’s lenses becoming contaminated with bacteria due to over-extended wear.
This blog post first appeared on Philly.com