By Dan Hennessey, O.D.
They are thin, clear and can balance perfectly on your fingertips. But for some parents, contact lenses are a heavy subject. The choice of letting a pre-teen or tween switch from glasses to contacts often comes down to one important factor: Are they ready?
There is no perfect age but a certain amount of maturity is needed when dealing with contact lenses. I have fitted contact lenses on children as young as eight, but the success rate rises dramatically at age 11 or 12. The child has to know how to care for the lenses themselves, without the assistance of a parent. The FDA recently reviewed medical records from 100 hospitals and found that 23 percent of contact lens injuries, such as infections and abrasions, involved children and teens. The findings support the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s long-standing position that “contact lenses are medical devices that require a prescription, proper fitting by an eye care professional and a commitment to proper care by the consumer. When children and teenagers use these devices, it is especially important that both children and caregivers understand the risks.”
Talking to your doctor about the best type of lens that will work both with your child’s vision correction needs and his or her habits is the first step.
To help decide if it’s time to visit the doctor we developed this quick quiz:
Kids and Contacts Quiz:
1. When it comes to hygiene rituals my child:
A. Brushes his/her teeth when I remind him/her
B. Is diligent about hygiene (and I’d hope to someday get my bathroom back)
C. What hygiene rituals?
2. My child wants contacts because he/she:
A. Has an older brother/sister who wears them
B. Needs a more practical solution on the soccer field
C. Wants to make his/her eyes look cool (see warning about colored lenses.)
3. My child often:
B. Talks about getting contacts
C. Has allergies, dry eye or suffers from frequent eye infections
4. My child has:
A. A habit of forgetting things like homework and appointments
B. Proven himself/herself to be responsible
C. Forgotten that they even wanted contacts
5. My child is good at:
A. Following my lead
B. Following directions on his/her own
C. Following the beat of a different drummer
If you picked mostly A: If you help your child FOCUS (i.e. helping him/her remember to take lenses out when swimming), contacts might be a good fit.
If you picked mostly B: It’s CLEAR, your child is ready for contacts.
If you picked mostly C: Your child might not be a good candidate for contacts.
Choosing contacts over glasses is a very personal choice. There is no right or wrong answer, only what works best for you and your child.
Contact Lens Terminology
- Rigid Gas Permeable lenses (RGP): Durable lenses that typically provide excellent visual acuity but are often more difficult to adapt to.
- Soft lenses (SCL): Lenses that provide very good comfort and vision and come in many versions.
- Disposable lenses: SCL that are replaced on a scheduled basis – typically daily, bi-weekly or monthly. Today, virtually all SCL are disposable lenses.
- Conventional lenses: Rarely used today, these are SCL that are replaced infrequently, about once a year. (A less healthy way to wear contact lenses)
- Daily Wear lenses: Lenses (RGP and SCL) that are removed nightly, cleaned and disinfected.
- Extended Wear lenses: Lenses (RGP and SCL) that are worn overnight for convenience. Removed at least weekly for cleaning and disinfection. Recommended less due to greater risk of complications and infections.
- Toric lenses: RGP and SCL that correct astigmatism.
- Bifocal and Multifocal lenses: RGP and SCL that correct presbyopia (the need for bifocals or reading glasses) in addition to any nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism.
Warning About Cosmetic or Decorative Contact Lenses
Cosmetic or decorative contact lenses are colored contacts that change the appearance of your eye color, and in the case of circle lenses also make your iris appear bigger.
Decorative lenses are available by prescription and should only be worn after an eye exam and fitting by qualified eye care professional.
Over-the-counter decorative contacts, including circle lenses, are illegal and pose a serious danger to your eye heath. They can cause eye injury, eye infection and vision loss.